Yokohama: The leaders of Japan and China met on the sidelines of a Pacific Rim summit on Saturday, their first formal meeting after a territorial dispute erupted two months ago, badly straining ties between the Asian neighbours.
The meeting between Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chinese President Hu Jintao was announced at the last minute, after days of consultations between the two sides.
Hu was in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, for an annual summit of 21 Pacific Rim countries and territories.
About 4,000 Japanese protesters gathered for an anti-China rally on Saturday near the summit, waving Japanese flags and shouting "defend our territory" and "defeat Chinese imperialism”.
Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have been fraught after Japan arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain whose boat collided with two Japanese patrol vessels near disputed islands in the East China Sea on September 07.
Japan released the captain, but Beijing demanded an apology and compensation, prompting Tokyo to demand that Beijing pay for damage to the patrol boats.
The dispute sparked nationalism in both countries, with numerous demonstrations in Chinese cities in recent weeks.
In the wake of the incident, Beijing cut off ministerial-level contacts with Japan, repeatedly summoned Tokyo's ambassador to complain and postponed talks on the joint development of undersea natural gas fields. China also quietly halted exports to Japan of rare earth metals, which are essential for making high-tech products.
Kan and Hu had brief encounters on the sidelines of meetings in Brussels, Belgium, and Hanoi, Vietnam, but had not held a formal meeting before Saturday.
Last week, a video showing the September 07 collisions was leaked on YouTube, prompting concerns about a fresh flare-up of tensions. A coast guard officer who admitted posting the video is being questioned by police.
The video had been kept secret, other than an edited version shown to some legislators, angering some in Japan who thought it may be evidence of Chinese wrongdoing. The video shows the fishing boat ramming into a Japanese patrol vessel amid screams and wailing sirens.
First Published: Saturday, November 13, 2010, 16:10