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China, Japan meet amid territorial tensions

world Updated: Oct 29, 2010 11:57 IST

China and Japan met on Friday in an attempt to repair soured relations over a maritime territorial dispute, with Japan sking for the lifting of a block on rare earth exports that has hampered its high-tech manufacturing.

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and his Japanese counterpart Seiji Maehara went into private talks on the sidelines of a regional Asian summit, hoping to lay the foundation for a meeting between Premier Wen Jiabao and Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

"The discussion took place in a good atmosphere. It was held calmly while both sides said what we should say. I believe it is likely that the leaders of China and Japan will hold a meeting here in Hanoi," Maehara told reporters after the hour-plus talks in the Vietnamese capital.

The two countries have sought to repair ties brought to a new low after a Chinese fishing trawler collided with Japanese patrol boats last month near disputed islands in the East China Sea. Tensions have remained high, despite Japan's release of the boat captain, with anti-Japanese protests flaring up in cities across China. Japan also asked China to unblock the export of rare earths and reopen talks on the joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea, Maehara said, adding that China responded that it would consider both requests. Beijing suspended the gas field talks during the spat, but has denied blocking rare earth exports. Maehara said that Japan "repeated its position firmly" regarding the territorial issue over the East China islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. Both countries claim the islands.

Territorial disputes between China and its neighbors are expected to be raised during the continuing regional summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which will broaden to include other leaders from Asia, the United States, Russia and elsewhere.

China has laid claim to strategically placed and potentially oil-rich islands in the South China Sea, but parts of it are also claimed by several Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam. China has strongly pushed to keep disputes over the South China Sea out of talks held by 10-member ASEAN bloc, preferring instead to deal with clashes one on one. But the smaller countries, backed by the United States, have refused to back down.

"ASEAN should have one voice before we venture (into) talking to other claimants," Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said, adding he and other Southeast Asian leaders' aired concerns during a dinner Thursday centered around maintaining peace and keeping busy shipping lanes open in the South China Sea.

In July, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States has a national interest in seeing these disputes peacefully resolved, while ensuring international waters remain free for all countries to use. Clinton will also attend the meeting on Saturday.

China had sought to reassure jittery neighbors during a military security meeting earlier this month in Hanoi, after it was accused of trying to bully its smaller neighbors.

Anti-Japan sentiment has continued to flare in China with multiple protests across several cities, including one earlier this week where a Japanese flag was torched outside a consulate in southwestern China.

Japan on Tuesday said it was considering increasing the size of its navy submarine fleet amid growing concerns that China's maritime muscle is becoming too strong and could tip the balance of power in the Pacific, where the United States also maintains a strong presence.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is expected to meet with leaders from Japan and South Korea while in Vietnam.