Japan "urges China to set up communication system"

HANOI Mon Oct 11, 2010 8:43am EDT

Japan's Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa (L) shakes hands with China's Defence Minister Liang Guanglie in Hanoi October 11, 2010. REUTERS/Kham

Japan's Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa (L) shakes hands with China's Defence Minister Liang Guanglie in Hanoi October 11, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Kham

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HANOI (Reuters) - Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Monday urged his Chinese counterpart to set up a bilateral maritime communications system quickly following a row over disputed islands, Kyodo news agency said.

Kitazawa and Liang Guanglie met in Hanoi on the sidelines of a meeting of Asia-Pacific defense ministers, in the first top-level defense talks between the two governments since the dispute flared last month.

The islands at the center of the row are claimed by both countries and near potentially huge oil and gas reserves.

The 20-minute discussion, which took place in a hotel cafe, went "very well," Liang told reporters. Asked what impact the talks would have on relations he replied: "Of course it will be positive."

Bilateral ties have been strained in the wake of Japan's 17-day detention last month of the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that collided with Japanese coastguard ships off disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Asia's two largest economies have acted to cool tensions somewhat following the stand-off over the uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, and the detained skipper is back in China after being released.

Liang and Kitazawa agreed that China and Japan should move forward with their "strategic, mutually beneficial relationship," the Japanese news agency Jiji said.

But there were limits to the thaw.

Kyodo said Kitazawa urged Liang to reconsider China's postponement of a Japanese naval training visit, which was supposed to take place on October 15, but Liang refused.

SENSITIVE ISSUES

China's Xinhua news agency paraphrased Liang as saying he hoped both militaries would "continue to increase mutual trust and promote the healthy development of military exchanges," but Japan needed to do more to fully rehabilitate ties.

"China hopes Japan would properly handle sensitive issues in bilateral relations so as to put the relationship back on a normal track at an early date," it said he told Kitazawa.

Japan late last month said it would ask China to pay for damage to its patrol boats after the collision. Japan has also so far refused China's demands for an apology.

Kyodo said, without citing sources, that Kitazawa told Liang the liaison system for preventing conflicts at sea should be set up quickly.

Japan and China had already agreed in May to set up an emergency hotline between the two countries in an attempt to ease the tensions that have grown along with Beijing's military might.

Earlier, Kitazawa and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed they would "cooperate to deal firmly" with the defense of islands including the disputed ones, Jiji quoted Kitazawa as saying.

Kitazawa would "seek cooperation in stepping up maritime security" during meetings with Asia-Pacific defense ministers in Hanoi, Kyodo reported late on Sunday.

Japan is not alone with its China-related maritime concerns.

Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan all claim sovereignty over parts of the South China Sea, which China claims in its entirety. China's hardening of its stance on the issue in recent months has prompted worries.

Kitazawa said he would tell Gates that he will "work toward reviewing" Japan's ban on arms exports, Kyodo said in a report late on Sunday.

"We should not just sit and watch domestic defense production bases and technological platforms deteriorate in a situation in which we are bound hand and foot," it quoted him as saying.

Japan has an almost-blanket ban on weapons exports. Efforts to review the ban have faced domestic opposition in the past.

(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Alex Richardson)

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