Japan's and China's foreign ministers tangled over territorial disputes Monday even as they appealed for steadier relations between the Asian rivals.
China's Foreign Ministry lodged a complaint about a flotilla of Japanese fishing boats that took members of right-wing groups Sunday near islands controlled by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus, but claimed by Beijing, which calls them the Diaoyus.
Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, in Beijing for talks, discussed the dispute in general terms with his Chinese counterpart, saying the islands are an "integral part of Japan and there is no territorial issue to be resolved," Matsumoto's spokesman Hidenobu Sobashima told reporters.
The complaints show how lingering disputes continue to buffet ties between the world's second- and third-largest economies even as they seek ways to cooperate.
Ahead of their talks, Matsumoto and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had both called for improved relations. The two "exchanged opinions and reached consensus on issues that the two nations are concerned about," said Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who later met with Matsumoto. He did not give details.
Ties between Japan and China have been strained for years over a contested gas field in the East China Sea and lingering animosity over Japan's often brutal World War II-era occupation of China as well as the island dispute. A new irritant was added last month after Japan and its ally the United States jointly agreed that China should act more responsibly to reduce tensions in the region.
Matsumoto told Yang that Japan hoped talks on a "legally binding" agreement on resource development in the East China Sea could be held, Sobashima said. China suspended talks on the issue in September after a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japanese patrol boats in the East China Sea.
The foreign minister also expressed concern about maritime security in the region, Sobashima said, amid a spike in tensions between China and Vietnam and the Philippines over disputed territory in the South China Sea.
"We think it's important to ensure maritime safety and freedom of navigation at seas and we understand that this is the interest of the international community," Sobashima said, adding that Matsumoto expressed hope that the countries concerned would cooperate.
The Philippines accuses Chinese vessels of making repeated intrusions into Philippine-claimed waters in recent months, while Vietnam says Chinese vessels have hindered its oil exploration surveys in an area 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) off its central coast that it claims as its economic exclusive zone. China claims it has sovereign rights over the South China Sea.
On North Korea's nuclear disarmament, Matsumoto told Yang that Japan hoped China would use its influence over North Korea to persuade the North to take "positive action" starting with direct talks with South Korea.
Matsumoto also pressed China to further ease restrictions on Japanese food imports imposed after radiation leaks from Japan's tsunami-crippled nuclear plant tainted some food products, Sobashima said. Matsumoto is the first Japanese cabinet minister to visit China since the March earthquake and tsunami that set off the nuclear crisis.