China envoy holds talks with Japan's vice foreign minister

Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua held talks with Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki on Wednesday ahead of the anniversary Thursday of Japan's surrender in World War II, senior Foreign Ministry officials said.

During an hourlong meeting, the two discussed visits by Japanese lawmakers to war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo and a bilateral dispute over the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the officials said.

The envoy is believed to have urged the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to exercise caution with regard to the Yasukuni visits on the anniversary, while Saiki is believed to have declined to comment on whether Abe will visit the shrine.

The Shinto shrine honors Japanese leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals by an Allied tribunal along with millions of war dead. Past visits to the shrine by Japanese political leaders have infuriated some countries that were victims of Japanese wartime aggression, especially China and South Korea.

Sources close to the premier said Abe has decided not to visit Yasukuni on Thursday, apparently out of concern his visit would further worsen ties with China and South Korea, but will instead make a ritual offering to the shrine.

Cheng and Saiki are also believed to have talked about laying the groundwork for a summit meeting between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Beijing has said there will be no summit talks as long as Tokyo refuses to admit the existence of the territorial dispute over the Senkakus, while Japan argues the summit should be held without preconditions.

Bilateral relations have sunk to their lowest point in years since the Japanese government purchased three of the five main islands in the Senkaku group, known as Diaoyu in China, from their Japanese private owner last September.

Saiki, who became vice foreign minister in June, visited China on July 29 and 30 and held talks with senior Chinese officials including Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Junichi Ihara, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, also met with China's Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin earlier this month.