China, Japan agree to keep momentum alive for better ties

TOKYO - China and Japan held their first security talks in four years on Thursday and agreed to keep alive and foster a nascent recovery in bilateral ties plagued by the legacy of Japan's wartime aggression and a territorial dispute.

The world's second- and third-largest economies, however, failed to set a timetable for the implementation of a scheme designed to ensure real-time communication between their armed forces.

Sino-Japanese relations have chilled over what China views as Japan's reluctance to properly atone for its wartime past as well as a dispute over a group of tiny East China Sea islets.

Patrol ships and fighter jets from both countries have shadowed each other regularly near the uninhabited islands that are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China, prompting fears that an accidental collision could spark conflict.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's moves to ease the constraints of Japan's pacifist constitution on its military have unnerved China. Japan says China's defence policy lacks transparency.

Abe held formal talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping last November. In the meeting, hailed by Xi as the first step towards improved ties, the two agreed to work for the implementation of a bilateral crisis management mechanism. "Both sides agreed that the tide is beginning to turn for the better regarding relations between Japan and China following the summit meeting," a Japanese Foreign Ministry official told a media briefing after the one-day meeting. "They also agreed that it is important to keep on taking positive steps in various areas and at various levels to firmly establish this trend."

China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement the Chinese side had expressed concern about "Japan's recent moves in the military and security fields" and hoped Japan "continues down the path of peaceful development".

In a sign of a thaw in Sino-Japanese ties, foreign ministers of Japan, China and South Korea are set to meet on Saturday in Seoul for the first time in nearly three years.

Xi and Abe, in their talks last year, agreed to aim for implementation of a plan for hot lines between defence officials as well as communication between vessels and aircraft to convey each other's intentions and avoid clashes.

While both sides at the Thursday meeting agreed to work to implement the scheme at an early date, no agreement was reached on a concrete schedule towards that goal, the official said.