Top diplomats from Japan, China to meet at weekend
Updated: 2006-09-20 10:35

TOKYO - Top diplomats from Japan and China are set to meet in Tokyo at the weekend amid speculation that Shinzo Abe may hold a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao after he becomes Japan's next prime minister.

Relations between the two nations are at their worst in decades, and China has refused to hold a leaders' summit with outgoing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi because of his visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, seen by Beijing as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi will meet with Chinese counterpart Dai Bingguo in Tokyo on Saturday and Sunday for a sixth round of strategic dialogue, the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday. The previous round was held in Beijing in May.

The talks will take place just days before Koizumi steps down as prime minister on September 26, when Abe is poised to take over.

Media reports have said the dialogue is aimed at paving the way for an Abe-Hu meeting, possibly on the sidelines of a November Asian Pacific leaders' gathering in Hanoi.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official declined to confirm this, saying only that the talks would touch on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues.

Former Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, a senior ruling party lawmaker who is close to Abe, told Reuters last week that preparations are underway for a summit and that officials from both nations had been meeting to discuss the issue.

Abe has defended Koizumi's Yasukuni visits but declined to say whether he too would pay his respects as prime minister at the shrine, which honors 14 wartime leaders convicted as war criminals along with Japan's millions of war dead.

Bilateral ties between Japan and its giant Asian neighbor have also been troubled by friction over the development of gas fields in disputed parts of the East China Sea.