China says 'no change' in policy on improving ties with Japan

SHANGHAI/BEIJING - China on Thursday rejected remarks by former Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda that Beijing had expressed willingness to improve ties between Asia's two biggest economies, and said there was "no change" in its policy on Tokyo.

Relations between China and Japan have been frayed by rows over the legacy of Japan's wartime militarism, a territorial feud over tiny islands in the East China Sea, and mutual distrust over defence policies.

China's foreign ministry was asked to respond to a speech on Wednesday in which Fukuda described his recent meetings with Chinese leaders, and added that both sides had shown the same sense of crisis over Sino-Japanese ties.

But Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said there was no change in China's position on the improvement and development of Sino-Japanese relations. "Japan must face up to reality, show sincerity, take concrete actions and make efforts to eliminate political obstacles that affect the development of bilateral relations,"Qin added, in a statement on the foreign ministry's website.

Earlier this month, the Nikkei business daily said Japan and China were trying to arrange two-way talks between their leaders at an APEC summit in Beijing in November.

Chinese President Xi Jinping had expressed his desire to mend ties during a meeting with Fukuda, who visited China late in July on a "stealth mission" to broker a rapprochement, the paper said, citing sources from both sides.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has yet to meet Chinese leaders since he returned to power late in 2012, as relations have cooled over disputed islands in the East China Sea and Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which China sees as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

In a separate statement earlier, Qin urged Japan to "make a clean break with militarism" and win the trust of its Asian neighbours, following news of a condolence message Abe sent in April to a ceremony honouring Japanese "martyrs" convicted as war criminals after World War Two.

Abe surged back to power in December 2012 pledging to revive the economy, but remains committed to a conservative agenda that includes recasting Japan's wartime past with a less apologetic tone and easing the limits of its pacifist constitution.

News of Abe's condolence message was expected to further strain ties with China over Japan's war record.

"We urge Japan to abide to their commitment to post-war non-aggression and take practical action to win the trust of their Asian neighbours and the international community," Qin said in Wednesday's statement.