China and Japan have agreed to set up a "maritime communications hotline" as a means of defusing tense naval standoffs as vessels from both sides patrol in waters near a disputed island chain in the East China Sea.
The issue is part of a broader security meeting – the first between Beijing and Tokyo since 2011. It comes as relations between the two countries — still marred by Japanese aggression in World War II – slowly improve, according to officials.
"Ties between Japan and China have been making a gradual advance since last year's summit meeting, but there still are concerns over each other's security policy," Japan's Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama, was quoted by The Japan Times as saying.
Even so, the issue over who owns the tiny, uninhabited island chain — known as Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China — has remained a major stumbling block. As recently as earlier this week, Japan's Foreign Ministry sought to bolster his country's claim to the islands by citing a map published in 1969 in China that showed them labeled by their Japanese name, Asahi Shimbun reported.
China's Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao said Beijing's aim was "setting aside minor differences for the common good, fostering trust and promoting cooperation."
China unilaterally froze relations with Japan two years ago over the island dispute, which briefly threatened to turn into a shooting conflict between the two countries.
In November, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, signaling a possible rapprochement. While the meeting on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit was hailed as a breakthrough in relations between the two sides, the BBC notes that "world media captured [Abe and Xi] frostily shaking hands."
After today's high-level meeting, a Japanese Foreign Ministry officials told journalists that the two sides "agreed that the tide is beginning to turn for the better regarding relations," according to Reuters.
Liu was quoted by the BBC as saying that both sides hoped to "develop a mind to face history squarely and look into the future."