BEIJING Japan believes tensions with China fanned by a dispute over a group of uninhabited islands can be resolved, a special envoy from Tokyo said on Friday after meeting China's president-in-waiting, Xi Jinping.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of New Komeito, the junior partner in Japan's ruling coalition, said Japan will take a broad view in dialogue with Beijing to resolve the dispute between the world's second- and third-largest economies, which has escalated in recent weeks.
"Japan wishes to pursue ties with China while looking at the big picture," Yamaguchi told reporters after his meeting with Xi, the chief of China's ruling Communist Party who is set to take over as president in March.
"I firmly believe our differences with China can be resolved," Yamaguchi said, adding that he did not directly discuss the islands issue with Xi.
Japan's nationalization in September of some of the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, sparked violent anti-Japanese protests across China. Some Japanese businesses were looted and Japanese citizens attacked.
Japanese manufacturers reported considerably lower sales in China in the following months.
Japanese military planes have in recent weeks been scrambled numerous times against Chinese planes approaching airspace over the islands.
Chinese planes have been shadowing Japanese aircraft elsewhere over the East China Sea and patrol vessels from the two countries have played a game of cat-and-mouse near the islands.
Yamaguchi said he delivered a letter to Xi from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"We agreed that it is important to continue dialogue with the aim of holding a Japan-China summit between the two leaders," he said, though no specific details were given.
While Yamaguchi has no formal position in the government, he is leader of relatively dovish New Komeito, which joined the Liberal Democratic Party in its return to power last month. LDP leader Abe became prime minister.
China insists the islands are its territory and that it will brook no dispute over the matter.
The islands were put under Japan's control in 1895 and were part of the post-World War Two U.S. military occupation zone from 1945-72. They were then returned to Tokyo by U.S. authorities in a decision China and Taiwan later contested.
China has asked the United Nations to consider later this year the scientific validity of its claim over the islands as a natural extension of its continental shelf under a U.N. convention.
Japan says the world body should not be involved.
(Reporting by Terril Yue Jones, writing by Michael Martina,; editing by Jonathan Standing and Ron Popeski)