Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday suggested a summit with China would improve a relationship that has been badly troubled for months by the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands.
The apparent softening came as Abe marshalled a rise in defense spending for the first time in over a decade aimed at beefing up Japan's hold over the islands it calls Senkakus.
It also came as Japan's well-equipped coastguard said it is creating a special unit with 10 new large patrol boats and a 600-strong force to oversee the East China Sea archipelago.
"A high-level meeting should be held because there is a problem. If necessary, there may be a need to build the ... relationship again, starting with a summit," Abe said.
However, Vice President and leader-in- waiting Xi Jinping, expressing a firm line on foreign affairs, said China will never compromise on its sovereignty, security or development interests.
"No foreign country should expect us to make a deal on our core interests and hope we will swallow the bitter pill that will damage our sovereignty, security and development interests," Xi told the 25-member Poliburo in remarks carried prominently on state television's evening news broadcast.
Bilateral relations have been roiled by Japan's nationalization of the islets in September, with Tokyo insisting its move to assume ownership was nothing more than administrative.
Abe's move comes days after envoy Natsuo Yamaguchi met Xi to deliver a letter in which Abe reportedly expressed a desire to "push forward bilateral strategic relationships for mutual benefit."