Japan, China, Hold High-Level Talks in Tokyo

Japan's vice foreign minister, Shotaro Yachi, and his Chinese counterpart, Dai Bingguo, are beginning two days of talks in Tokyo - the first high-level contact in more than four months.

The sixth round of the dialogue comes at a pivotal time in Japanese politics - just days before Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe is to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Relations between Tokyo and Beijing chilled during Mr. Koizumi's five years in office - in part because of his visits to a Shinto shrine where convicted war criminals are among those honored.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi told reporters Friday there is unlikely to be much released about the agenda or the outcome of the talks.

"Beijing and Tokyo have both agreed to give a veil of mystique to the dialog so that maximum amount of free discussion is going to be preserved," said Taniguchi.

Abe, expected to be named by parliament as prime minister on Tuesday, has vowed to improve Sino-Japanese relations after he takes office.

The tensions between China and Japan also include territorial issues, such as the dispute over exploration rights to undersea resources in the East China Sea.

But the visits to Yasukuni Shrine have generated the most emotion on both sides. Chinese leaders see the shrine visits as evidence of Japan's lack of remorse for its brutal occupation and colonization of much of China during the early 20th century.

Mr. Koizumi has defended the visits as his right to pay respects to all of Japan's war dead and to pray for world peace.

The Chinese have said visits to the shrine by top Japanese officials are an obstacle to improving relations.

Abe has said he will not discuss the issue of whether he will visit the shrine as prime minister.

Many political analysts think that Abe, after becoming prime minister, will soon meet with top Chinese officials - either in Beijing or at the ASEAN summit in the Philippines in December.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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