TOKYO (AP) — Japan's top government spokesman said Friday that an Asian regional summit in Beijing this November would be a good opportunity for the leaders of Japan and China to hold their first talks ever amid sour relations. The Chinese government, however, rejected the suggestion.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting would provide a "natural" environment for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping to meet on the sidelines. Beijing will be hosting this year's annual meeting for the 21-member group.
"APEC is where world leaders gather, and I believe it would be quite appropriate (for Abe and Xi) to hold talks on the sidelines, as other members of international society do," Suga said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.
He said the world's second and third largest economies must act as responsible members of the international community.
It's highly unusual for the leaders of the two countries not to meet for so long after taking office. Abe became prime minister in December 2012, and Xi assumed the presidency in March 2013.
Relations between Japan and China have been tense over island disputes in the East China Sea, exploitation of undersea gas deposits in the area, as well as wartime history.
Their ties turned colder late last year when Abe visited a controversial Tokyo shrine, where Japanese World War II leaders convicted as war criminals are honored among the 2.5 million dead. It was seen by China as the lack of remorse over Japanese wartime aggression.
In Beijing, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry dismissed the proposed talks and questioned Tokyo's sincerity.
"China-Japan relations are facing severe difficulty," Qin Gang said at a regular briefing, repeating China's objections to Abe's visit to the war shrine and the island disputes.
"If the Japanese side does not to correct its attitude or take concrete actions, the relationship between China and Japan will not recover," Qin said.