apan announced yesterday it would hold one-day talks with China next week on bilateral ties and a dispute over gas deposits in the East China Sea, in an apparent attempt to staunch a rapid deterioration in relations.
Tensions between the two countries have risen over the past year, particularly over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo war shrine that China considers a glorification of militarism.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry said the midlevel talks on Monday in Beijing would focus on overall relations between the two countries and a simmering dispute over the ownership of natural gas deposits in the East China Sea.
Kenichiro Sasae, head of the Foreign Ministry's Asia-Oceania Bureau, will meet with Cui Tiankai (崔
Nobuyori Kodaira, head of Japan's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, will join the gas dispute talks.
The two countries held talks on UN reform in late December in Beijing, and discussed the gas dispute in late September and early October, the ministry said.
Relations between Asia's most populous nation and its largest economy have been battered in recent months by a string of disputes.
Most recently, Beijing issued a strongly worded protest after the Japanese government suggested Chinese officials had something to do with a Japanese consular official's suicide last year in Shanghai.
That spat followed Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso's assertion that China's military posed "a considerable threat" to the region, and called for greater transparency in China's military budget.
In April Chinese protesters stoned Japanese diplomatic offices and businesses in demonstrations over new Japanese schoolbooks that critics say minimize Tokyo's aggression against its Asian neighbors in the 1930s and 1940s.
In the gas dispute, Japan and China are at odds over who has rights to deposits near Okinawa in the East China Sea. The area falls inside both countries' exclusive economic zones.
China has already extracted gas from one field, triggering protests from Japan, which fears the reserves might run dry. Japan wants China to stop drilling and has proposed a joint project.
Japan in July gave Teikoku Oil Co drilling rights in the disputed area, but drilling has not begun.
Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both Japan and China have signed, coastal countries can claim an economic zone extending 370km from their shores.
The disputed reserves lie within both countries' claims, and the UN has until May 2009 to rule on the matter.