BRUSSELS (AP) — Japan declared an end Tuesday to a dispute with China over a high-seas collision last month and the two countries agreed to resume exchanges and projects that had been stopped because of the incident.
The breakthrough came after the prime ministers of the two countries held an impromptu after-dinner meeting in the corridor of an Asia-Europe summit.
The diplomatic confrontation threatened to dampen the atmosphere at the biannual Asia-European Union summit, or ASEM, as Prime Ministers Wen Jiabao of China and Naoto Kan studiously avoided each other during the first session of the 48-nation conference.
But then they walked out of the working dinner at the same time and “happened to meet in the corridor,” said Satoru Satoh, the Japanese Foreign Ministry press secretary. They talked briefly and agreed to move past the maritime incident. Only the two men and their interpreters were there, he said.
“This particular incident is over,” he told reporters in Brussels.
In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement “both parties agreed to strengthen non-governmental exchanges and communications between the governments, and to hold high-level Chinese-Japanese talks at the appropriate time.”
Tokyo also made clear Japan was not compromising on its claim, which dates back to 1895. Mr. Satoh said Japan sees no need to ask a third party or the U.N.’s International Court of Justice to mediate the territorial dispute.
In Tokyo on Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara called on Beijing to meet and discuss ways the countries could avoid similar spats in the future.
“There is no territorial dispute in the East China Sea,” he said at a press conference. “But I do understand the importance of Japanese-Chinese relations, and if on both sides we can put our heads together, we can find ways to prevent such unfortunate incidents from happening again in the future.
“Our window for negotiation is always open,” Mr. Maehara said, pledging to work to restore ties with China.
The collision of a Chinese trawler with two Japanese patrol vessels last month and Japan’s detention of the fishing boat captain plunged relations to their lowest level in five years, although last week ties appeared to be heading back on track.
The crash stirred up nationalism in both countries. Beijing suspended ministerial-level talks with Tokyo and postponed talks on jointly developing undersea gas fields. Japan released the captain, but Beijing shocked Tokyo by demanding an apology.
Beijing also apparently lifted a de facto export ban on rare earth materials needed in Japan for advanced manufacturing, but Japan’s economic ministry said that it could not yet say whether shipments had resumed.