Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday called for a leaders’ summit or a foreign ministers’ meeting between his country and China as soon as possible, drawing a cool reaction from Beijing, which accused Japan of lacking sincerity.
Sino-Japanese ties, often fragile, have been seriously strained since September when a territorial row flared over tiny islands in the East China Sea which Taiwan also claims. Concerns that the conservative Japanese leader wants to recast Japan’s wartime history with a less apologetic tone have added to the tensions.
“I think there should be a summit meeting and also a foreign ministers meeting as soon as possible ... I think such meetings should be held without pre-conditions,” Abe said in response to a question at an academic conference in Singapore.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said its door was always open for talks, but that the problem lay in Japan’s attitude.
“The crux of the matter at present is Japan’s unwillingness to face up to the serious problems which exist in Sino-Japan relations, and it is avoiding having earnest talks and consultations with China,” the ministry said in a statement faxed to Reuters.
Japan, it said, should “stop using empty slogans about so-called dialogue to gloss over disagreements.”
Earlier yesterday, the Japanese Defense Ministry issued a policy report repeating Japanese concerns about China’s military build-up and its activities near the islands.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it hoped Japan would respect the concerns of neighboring countries and “take the path of peaceful development and not artificially create and exaggerate tensions.”
The policy report called for an increase in the country’s military capabilities and a more assertive role in regional security due to increased threats from China and North Korea.
If implemented, some of the changes outlined by the interim Defense Ministry paper would be a major shift in policy for a military that is currently limited to self-defense and is banned from operating in overseas combat zones under a pacifist constitution.
The paper said Japan should increase its surveillance capability and consider using drones, or unmanned surveillance vehicles, capable of wide-range, high-altitude monitoring around the clock.
The paper also proposed creating a marine force with amphibious functions to defend disputed islands in the East China Sea. It said the Japan-US security alliance remains “the cornerstone” of Japan’s defense policy and urged Japan to step up its ability to respond to ballistic missile attacks amid concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.
A final report is expected at the end of this year.
On Friday, four ships from China’s newly formed civilian coast guard entered what Japan considers its territorial waters near the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands and as the Diaoyu (釣魚) in China, but left the area later without incident.
Abe also met with US Vice President Joe Biden in Singapore, after which the US restated its wish for tensions to subside.