In Beijing, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun held a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Chikao Kawai on the row between the two sides over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Afterwards Kawai said only that the two sides had talked well on bilateral relations. while China’s Foreign Ministry said the country would stand up for its sovereignty, yet also seemed to leave a way out.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei: China will never tolerate any unilateral actions by Japan that harm Chinese territorial sovereignty. Japan must banish illusions, reflect upon itself deeply and use concrete actions to amend its errors, returning to the consensus and understandings reached between our two countries' leaders.
Controlled by Japan but claimed by both countries, the islands are known as the Diaoyu to China and the Senkaku to Japan, and have soured ties for decades.
Bilateral relations took a sharp turn for the worse this month when the Japanese government went ahead with a plan to buy the islands from their private owner. That triggered a week of often-violent protests across China and an informal boycott of Japanese products.
As the Foreign Ministry indicated, China blames Japan for breaking a long-standing consensus between the two sides to shelve the dispute. Under this unwritten agreement, China would maintain its claim, but not push it if Japan left the islands uninhabited and undeveloped.
Japan's central government says if it had not bought the islands, Tokyo's right-wing governor Shintaro Ishihara would have done so himself. Ishihara, it says, would certainly have built installations on them.
Crucially, therefore, the Foreign Ministry’s statement suggested that while China seems to be demanding a reversal of the purchase, it might also accept Japan’s explanation that it was only seeking to maintain the status quo.
While the two sides talked in Beijing, the row was complicated by the arrival in the islands’ waters of protesting boats from Taiwan, whose identical territorial claim China has no problem with because it is consistent with the more sacred principle that Taiwan is a part of China. The two sides exchanged water cannon fire, but also seemed to be sticking to a new unwritten rule, that the Japanese side would not take stronger measures, if the Chinese side withdrew from the disputed waters once it had made its point.