PRC, Japan in talks on territory rift

THIRD ROUND: This time, Beijing and Tokyo seem a little more prepared for constructive discussion of the enduring issues that have led to recent anger

AP , BEIJING

Sat, Oct 15, 2005 - Page 4

Senior Chinese and Japanese officials were to hold talks yesterday aimed at healing division between the Asian powers over rival claims to gas deposits in disputed territory and historical issues left over from World War II.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi was traveling to Beijing yesterday, with talks to begin later in the day, according to the Japanese embassy.

The dialogue is the third round of "strategic talks" aimed at improving soured ties following violent anti-Japanese protests last spring over Tokyo's wartime aggression and its bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat.

The exchange is likely to include other issues, such as the multination effort to get North Korea to give up its nuclear-weapons program, both sides said.

Yachi reportedly met with his South Korean counterpart, Yu Myung-hwan, in Tokyo on Thursday before heading to Beijing. Contents of their discussion were not available, but South Korea, along with Japan, Russia, China and the US are participating in talks with North Korea on its nuclear program.

"These are strategic talks that could be about anything. They will cover a wide range of issues," said Keiji Ide, a spokesman for the Japanese embassy in Beijing.

"This is a very good occasion to have a good discussion," he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan (孔泉), speaking at a briefing on Thursday, described the atmosphere of the last round of talks, which were held in Tokyo in June, as "pragmatic and productive."

But he noted, "we have our serious disputes."

He said he hoped both sides would show similar flexibility in Beijing "so that we can achieve the objective to find a solution through peace and talks and dialogue."

Ide said he could not comment on a report early yesterday by Japan's Kyodo News agency that Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura will visit Beijing on Oct. 23 and Oct. 24 for talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星).

Japan has complained that China is drilling for undersea gas in a disputed area between the two countries, and has started work on a gas pipeline. Beijing says it is within its rights to develop resources in the region.

China and other neighboring countries have chastised Japan for textbooks that critics say gloss over its wartime atrocities throughout Asia.

Beijing also has criticized Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for paying visits to a Tokyo war shrine that honors the country's war dead, including convicted Class A war criminals.

Koizumi has gone to the shrine four times since becoming prime minister in April 2001, and is expected to go again before the end of this year.