Japan and China agree to improve ties despite row

Japanese and Chinese leaders, however, stressed claims to disputed islands.

Tokyo: Japanese and Chinese leaders said they wanted to improve strained ties, but both stressed their claims to islands at the heart of a bitter row, suggesting tensions between Asia`s top two economies were far from over.

The Prime Ministers of Japan and China met on Monday for the first time since a feud over a collision near disputed islands in the East China Sea last month soured ties, and agreed to start high-level talks to repair relations.

"We both said the current situation is not desirable, and we confirmed a return to the starting point of improving our strategic mutually beneficial relations," Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters in Brussels after meeting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit.

"We agreed to hold individual high-level talks on a suitable basis," Kan said, adding that he saw the disputed islands as Japanese territory.

Kan, under heavy domestic fire for appearing to cave into Chinese demands in the row, did not say who would take part in the talks or when they would be held.

The two leaders met for 25 minutes after a working dinner at the summit in Brussels, their first face-to-face contact since the captain of a Chinese trawler was detained after the incident near disputed islands in the East China Sea. The meeting was not announced in advance.

Wen told Kan the islands -- called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China -- belonged to China but also said the two Asian giants must deepen their ties for the benefit of the people of the two countries, state media said.

"The Diaoyu Islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times," Wen said during the conversation with Kan, the Xinhua news agency said in an English-language report.

The row has hit supplies to Japan of rare earth minerals, vital for electronics and auto parts manufacturing and in which China accounts for about 97 percent of global total production.

Japan buys around half of China`s rare earth, but Beijing imposed a de facto ban on exports after the trawler incident.

On Tuesday, Japan`s Trade Minister Akihito Ohata said he would approach China about improving rare earth to Japan, citing a survey that showed more than 30 importers reported problems.

Bureau Report

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