A high-level Chinese official has called for talks with Japan over a disputed island chain, in an apparent attempt by Beijing to cool tensions that have seen both sides scramble jet fighters to the area in recent days.
Jia Qinglin, the head of China’s top political advisory body, made the gesture at a meeting in Beijing with former Japanese PM Yukio Hatoyama, the official China Daily newspaper reported Thursday.
Japan has steadfastly refused China’s past calls to hold talks over the islands, with Tokyo arguing that it holds sovereignty over the islets and thus there is nothing to negotiate.
Jia is believed to be the highest-ranking Chinese official to publicly issue such a call, and the mild tenor of his remarks — omitting China’s standard accusation that Japan is wholly responsible for the frictions — was seen as a signal Beijing hopes to arrest momentum toward an all-out crisis.
“The two sides should appropriately handle questions surrounding the Diaoyu islands and other and other issues on which their stances’ differ,” Jia said, using the Chinese term for the tiny uninhabited islands lying north of Taiwan.
Jia is due to retire in March and Hatoyama has long been an advocate of closer ties with China, though he has lost influence under new Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. China’s call for talks in a meeting Wednesday could represent a way to ask for talks that is less risky than an official, high-level exchange.