Kerry eyeing visit to China possibly in mid-February

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is considering visiting China as early as mid-February, diplomatic sources said Wednesday.

The plan is under discussion at a time of heightened tensions between China and Japan over territorial and historical issues.

China said Thursday that Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Kerry on the sidelines of the Syrian peace talks in Montreux, Switzerland, and discussed Sino-Japanese relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Top officials of China and the United States, which have agreed to seek a new model of major-country cooperation, are in active contact with each other.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns held talks Wednesday in Beijing with senior Chinese officials, including Vice President Li Yuanchao and State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

It is possible that Burns, who arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for a three-day visit, discussed Kerry's possible visit to China with the senior officials.

Kerry may also visit Japan and South Korea, major U.S. allies in the region, if he goes to China.

But Kerry could skip visiting Japan as he traveled to Tokyo in October for a bilateral meeting of defense and diplomatic officials, according to the sources.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is concerned about Japan's frayed relations with China and South Korea.

Obama's administration, which wants to increase its influence in Asia, recognizes that good communication between the four countries is important in ensuring prosperity in the region and in dealing with uncertainties, such as North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Under these circumstances, the United States reacted sharply to China's sudden establishment in November of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea.

The United States has also expressed disappointment over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo in late December, which further deteriorated Japan's relations with China and South Korea.

Even before the shrine visit, Sino-Japanese relations were at their lowest ebb due to a dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The islands controlled by Japan are claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.