After Chinese officials called for an end to weekend protests against Japan’s Government, Japan reciprocated on Wednesday by asking for a summit meeting between leaders of the countries later this week in Indonesia, the New York Times reported.
With signs that both sides were seeking ways to defuse the diplomatic crisis, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi responded favorably to Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing after his call to Chinese protesters to stop the weekend marches and protests against Japanese consular offices and businesses in Chinese cities.
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing appealed for calm and said the public should not take part in unauthorized demonstrations.
"Express yourselves calmly, rationally and in an orderly fashion," Li was quoted as saying. "Do not participate in unapproved marches and other activities and do not do anything that will affect social stability."
"You can see well that there is a tone that says it is necessary to lead it toward an improvement, and I think we share that view," Koizumi told reporters in Tokyo.
Japan is pressing for a summit meeting on the sidelines between Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao when they attend an Asia-Africa conference in Indonesia on Friday and Saturday.
"We hope this meeting will take place," the spokesman for the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Hatsuhisa Takashima, told the New York Times by telephone from Jakarta. "We are now making arrangements in that direction, but the Chinese are a little slow in giving us an answer. We told them that we would like to have a meeting on a wide range of issues."
Wedesday's comments by Japanese and Chinese officials contrasted sharply with their tone earlier. Japan's foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, had demanded an apology from China, and his Chinese counterpart had pointedly refused.
China has rejected state-level visits with Japan since 2001 because of Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where World War II criminals are enshrined. But the two leaders held a tense meeting on the fringes of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Santiago last November, during which Hu demanded that Koizumi stop visiting the shrine.
Chinese officials called an end to the protests, apparently apprehensive about social disturbances if they continued. In Japan, fears have risen that Japan's economy, which has grown increasingly interdependent with China's, might be undermined by further friction leading to calls inside China to boycott Japanese products. Japan's economy had been recovering until last year, thanks mainly to the soaring Chinese economy, said the New York Times.
On Wednesday, Japanese business leaders - who, unlike politicians, tend to view China as a partner rather than a rival - held a news conference to express worries that the crisis would make it difficult for Japanese companies to do business in China.
"If the situation caused the Chinese economy to slow, it would affect not only Japan but the whole Asian economy," said Kakutaro Kitashiro, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives and of IBM. Japan Ltd.
The most obvious cause of the protests was anger by the Chinese at newly approved textbooks in Japanese junior high schools that gloss over Japan's militarism and war crimes.
Even as Japan has tried to expand its reach in Asia - by donating $500 million to tsunami relief efforts and sending its Self-Defense Forces to Indonesia - there were signs that its dispute with China would hurt Japan's image in the region.
Continuing Japanese denials that their textbooks and attitude toward the past have anything to do with the marches in China have not found sympathetic ears in Asian countries that were invaded by Imperial Japan. Protests against Japan have also taken place in South Korea and Vietnam, and critical comments have come from Malaysia and Indonesia, said the New York Times.
"We feel as Indonesians that all countries - including Japan - have to face the facts of history," Indonesia's foreign ministry spokesman, Marty Natalegawa, said earlier this week.