TOKYO Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa is considering seeking talks with his Chinese counterpart in Vietnam next month to repair strained bilateral ties, Kyodo news agency said, citing unnamed government sources.
Tokyo will sound out Beijing about the plan for Kitazawa to meet Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie although China has suspended high-level exchanges with Japan following the detention of the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that collided with Japan Coast Guard ships off disputed islands, Kyodo said.
The skipper was released and went home last weekend.
Following the trawler captain's release, Beijing demanded compensation and an apology, which Japan rejected, while four Japanese nationals have been held in China since last week on suspicion of violating a law protecting military facilities.
"To ease the tension, it is necessary to hold talks between the Japanese and Chinese defense ministers," Kyodo quoted a Japanese government source as saying on Thursday.
Japan earlier this month expressed concern over China's growing military activities, especially its naval operations, in its annual defense white paper, and urged Beijing to be clearer about its defense spending.
Kitazawa and Liang will be in Hanoi on October 12 for a meeting of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus eight other countries, including the United States and Russia, Kyodo said.
If the meeting takes place, Kitazawa would convey Japan's concern that if tensions between the two countries increase, it would seriously affect the security of the Asia-Pacific region, Kyodo quoted the government sources as saying.
While visiting Hanoi, Kitazawa is also expected to hold separate meetings with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, Kyodo said.
Preparations are also under way to set up a meeting between Kitazawa and a high-ranking official from Vietnam, which is also involved in a territorial row with China, Kyodo quoted the sources as saying.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Joseph Radford)