China and Japan began on Thursday their first security talks in four years with both sides stressing the importance of candid dialogue, in a step aimed at thawing ties plagued by the legacy of Japan’s wartime aggression and a territorial dispute.
Relations between the world’s second- and third-largest economies have chilled over what China views as Japan‘s reluctance to properly atone for its wartime past as well as a dispute over a group of tiny East China Sea islets.
Patrol ships and fighter jets from both countries have shadowed each other regularly near the uninhabited islands that are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China, prompting fears that an accidental collision could spark conflict.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s moves to ease the constraints of Japan’s pacifist constitution on its military have unnerved China. Japan says China’s defence policy lacks transparency.
Abe held formal talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping last November. In the meeting, hailed by Xi as the first step towards improved ties, the two agreed to work for the implementation of a bilateral crisis management mechanism.
Their deputy foreign ministers met on Thursday for a day of talks.
“Ties between Japan and China have been making a gradual advance since last year’s summit meeting but there still are concerns over each other’s security policy,” said Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama.
“The best way to dissolve the concerns is to hold direct dialogue”.
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao said China placed great importance on dialogue and consultation.
“I hope both sides will exchange views positively, aggressively and in a practical manner through this dialogue and achieve such targets as setting aside minor differences for the common good, fostering trust and promoting cooperation,” he said through an interpreter.
Xi and Abe, in their talks last year, agreed to aim for implementation of a plan for hot lines between defence officials as well as communication between vessels and aircraft to convey each other’s intentions and avoid clashes.