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photoPrime Minister Naoto Kan prepares to address reporters in Hanoi on Saturday. (Photo by Satoru Iizuka/ The Asahi Shimbun)

HANOI--China has thrown a monkey wrench into Tokyo's efforts to patch up relations with Beijing to pave the way for President Hu Jintao to visit in November to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan held talks lasting 10 minutes Saturday with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao here on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit.

That meeting came a day after China abruptly called off a more formal discussion that Japanese officials had hoped would help repair bilateral ties that became strained over a bitter territorial dispute that flared in September.

The weekend maneuvering left Japanese officials unclear of China's intentions.

Tetsuro Fukuyama, the deputy chief Cabinet secretary who accompanied Kan to Hanoi, told reporters Saturday that Kan and Wen agreed on four points:

* That cancelling the Friday meeting was regrettable;

* That strengthening private-sector exchanges is important;

* That there is a need to make continued efforts to promote a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests; and

* That efforts must be made to create an opportunity to hold a longer discussion in the future.

Fukuyama said Wen walked up to Kan, shook hands and initiated the conversation.

Later on Saturday, Kan himself held a news conference in which he referred to his meeting with Wen and said: "A number of different incidents have occurred, but our mutually beneficial relationship has not changed. I am confident we will be able to maintain a meaningful and cordial relationship."

Kan also said the bilateral relationship had to be viewed from a longer perspective.

"The problems that are occurring now are not like the decisive problems that have arisen in the past," Kan said. "If the two sides deal with the matter in a calm manner, it will be very possible for the Japan-China relationship to further develop on both the economic and cultural fronts."

The next major event for the two nations will be the APEC summit to be held in Yokohama in mid-November.

A high-ranking Foreign Ministry official said, "Our focus is on APEC, but whether (the brief meeting this weekend) will lead to a next meeting will depend on China."

In a sense, the events of the weekend were controlled by China.

Hu Zhengyue, a Chinese assistant foreign minister, placed the blame for Friday's cancellation of the Wen-Kan meeting squarely on Japan.

"The Japanese side ruined the atmosphere for a summit meeting," Hu was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying Friday. "Japan bears complete responsibility."

Hu added, "The individual in charge of Japan's foreign affairs conspired with another nation on the eve of the ASEAN summit meetings and rehashed the issue of the Diaoyu Islands (known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands). The Japanese side has been using the media to spread messages that violate China's sovereignty and territorial integrity throughout those summit meetings."

Hu's comment was aimed at a statement made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday during a meeting with Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara in which she acknowledged that the Senkaku Islands were covered by the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty as an area in which the United States would be obligated to come to Japan's defense.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi raised the issue directly in a Saturday meeting in Hanoi with Clinton.

Yang told Clinton, "The United States should refrain from commenting on this extremely delicate issue and should not make any mistaken statement."

Another issue that China cited for upsetting the atmosphere for a bilateral summit meeting on Friday was a news report transmitted by the French news agency AFP that said an agreement had been reached during a meeting between Yang and Maehara to resume negotiations on a treaty for joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea.

AFP issued a correction later Friday that said Japan did not say an agreement had been reached.

One reason for the quick reaction by China to an inaccurate news report is the delicate domestic position of Wen on the joint development issue.

In a visit to Japan in May, Wen declared that negotiations would begin on a treaty. That gave the impression to a Chinese audience that Wen had backed down in the face of Japanese demands.

To make matters worse for Wen, Yukio Hatoyama, with whom the agreement was reached, stepped down as prime minister the day after Wen left Japan. That left Wen open to criticism after he returned to China.

Ever since, Wen has taken a harsh stance toward Japan, including the September collision in the East China Sea that triggered the latest downturn in bilateral relations.




The Asahi Shimbun Asia Network
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