TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Monday for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a regional meeting in Beijing in November, but defended Tokyo's controversial relaxation of strict rules on its military.
Abe pointed to the countries' huge trading and business ties and said they were "inextricably" linked, despite a row over islands in the East China Sea and historical grievances largely tied to Tokyo's militarism in the first half of the 20th century.
"I want to hold summit talks (with Xi) during the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum) meeting in Beijing," he told parliament, responding to questions about relations with China.
"My door is always open for dialogue and I hope the Chinese side adopts the same stance."
Abe and Xi, both strong nationalists, have not held a bilateral summit since they both came to power more than 18 months ago.
The Japanese premier has repeatedly called for a meeting with Xi and also with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.
Xi and Park held talks in Seoul earlier this month, while Park visited China last year.
During a visit to Australia and New Zealand last week, Abe called for talks with Xi.
'Difficult' to use armed force
Tokyo and Beijing have long been at odds over claims to the islands and what China sees as Japan's failure to atone for its military atrocities before and during World War II.
Rising tensions have seen Chinese ships routinely sail into waters near the disputed East China Sea archipelago, while Japan has scrambled fighter jets to ward off intrusions near its airspace.
Relations worsened again this month after Japan relaxed restrictions on the use of armed force in a controversial change to its post-war pacifism. The move sparked public protests and a stern rebuke from China, which saw it as a return to Tokyo's militaristic past.
On Monday Abe again defended his government's reinterpretation of the post-war constitution -- which renounces war and limits the military to defending Japan from attack -- but played down the likelihood of Japan ever engaging in a conflict.
Earlier this month, he said Japan's powerful military had the right to go into battle in defence of allies as part of "collective self-defence".
Abe has sought to portray the move as necessary as China builds up its military and North Korea exacerbates regional security concerns.
But "it would be difficult under the current constitution for Japan to use armed force beyond the government's basic policy" which bans the use of force to settle international conflicts, he told parliament.
In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun on Sunday, Abe declined to say whether he would visit a controversial Tokyo war shrine on the August 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
China was furious over Abe's December visit to the shrine, which honours Japan's war dead including some senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes. (AFP)