China, Japan to have highest level meetings

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will meet Japan 's trade minister this week, the government said Tuesday, in the highest-level contact between the two sides since relations soured last October. Wen will hold talks with Japan 's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshihiro Nikai, who was to arrive in Beijing later Tuesday for a three-day visit, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao at a regular press briefing.

The meeting would be the highest-level contact between the two since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi enraged Beijing in October by worshipping at a Tokyo war shrine that China considers a glorification of Japan 's wartime militarism. Nikai was also expected to meet with Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan and Chinese Commerce Minister Bo Xilai, Liu said.

Kyoko Kato, an official with the Northeast Asian section of Japan 's Trade Ministry, refused to comment on the agenda, but Japanese news reports have said the first order of business for the trade ministers was the conflict over gas exploration in the East China Sea . Liu said East China Sea would be "a likely topic of discussion" between Nikai and Chinese leaders. He said the two sides would also exchange views on issues of common concern, but did not give specifics.

China has extracted gas from one of several fields in the East China Sea , triggering protests from Japan , which fears the reserves might run dry. Previous talks aimed at resolving the issue have produced little progress. Wen has not met with a Japanese Cabinet minister since Beijing angrily protested Koizumi's shrine visit in October last year. Critics say the shrine, which includes convicted war criminals among those it honors, glorifies Japanese imperialism.

Koizumi said earlier he hoped the meeting would help chart the path for better relations between the two countries. Still, he has refused to rule out a further visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. Relations between the two nations have also plummeted over a spate of disputes, including a row over the death of a Japanese consulate worker in Shanghai and differing interpretations of Japan 's invasion of China before World War II, reports the AP.


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