The Chinese and Japanese prime ministers held an impromptu meeting in a hallway at a conference in Europe, in the highest-level contact between the countries since a bitter territorial dispute erupted a month ago, both governments confirmed yesterday.
Relations between the Asian neighbors — the world’s second and third-biggest economies — have been strained since a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japanese patrol vessels early last month near islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries and Taiwan.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan agreed to improve their ties when they met briefly on Monday in Brussels, where both attended the Asia-Europe Meeting.
“Both parties agreed to strengthen non-governmental exchanges and communications between the governments, and to hold high-level Chinese-Japanese talks at the appropriate time,” a statement on the Web site of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
Despite the continuing thaw, both sides remained firm on the territorial dispute: The statement said Wen reiterated that the uninhabited islands — called Diaoyutai (釣魚台) in Chinese and Senkaku by Japan — belong to China, while according to Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, Kan said they were Japanese territory.
Kan’s office in Tokyo confirmed the two met for about 25 minutes.
Kan was returning to Japan yesterday after skipping the second day of the summit. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said the two met sitting on chairs in a hallway. The meeting was not on any public schedule.
“Improving relations is good for Asia, for Japan and China, and especially for the global economy,” Sengoku told a news conference in Tokyo.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Kan said he and Wen agreed “on the need to return to that starting point and move forward from there,” public broadcaster NHK reported.
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