China and Japan are expected to hold a new round of talks on gas exploration in the East China Sea in Tokyo tomorrow, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.
The row over the gas field is one of several issues that have dragged ties between the two countries to their lowest ebb in decades.
Hu Zhengyue, director of the ministry's Department of Asian Affairs, and Kenichiro Sasae, head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, will lead the negotiations, the ministry's spokesman Liu Jianchao told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
According to Liu: "Because the two sides' differences are still big and some issues are very complicated, it will be hard to make any breakthroughs in this round of talks.
"We will take part in the talks with a responsible and positive attitude in a bid to narrow the gap between the two sides," he added.
Since October 2004, China and Japan have convened four rounds of consultations on the East China Sea issue, the last taking place in Beijing in March.
Beijing says it has rights to the gas but Tokyo claims the two countries should share them. Meetings aimed at resolving the dispute have so far ended in disagreement.
The talks will take place as the two sides are making efforts to improve bilateral relations strained by the gas dispute and, in particular, by Japanese leaders' repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japan's class-A war criminals of World War II are honored.
Responding to a question about a US offer to China to observe military exercises on the Pacific island of Guam next month, Liu said the Chinese side will "actively consider" the invitation.
China welcomes the US offer and believes more contact between the two countries' armed forces could increase mutual understanding, he said.
Commander of the US Pacific Command Admiral William Fallon extended the invitation during a week-long visit to China that ended on Monday. The US-led drills on the military outpost are expected to take place in mid-June.
Commenting on a report that the US government is considering imposing sanctions on several small Chinese banks with business links to North Korean companies involved in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Liu said the Chinese government holds a firm and definite stance over the non-proliferation issue.
China strongly opposes the proliferation of WMD and does not allow any Chinese company or individual to engage in such activities, he said.
China also maintains that any problems connected with this issue should be solved through dialogue rather than sanctions, he noted.
Turning to the Iranian nuclear issue, Liu said China appreciates the EU's commitment to solving it through negotiations.
On Monday, the EU reaffirmed its commitment to finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
According to Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the current EU Presidency, the EU is prepared to offer a cooperation package and to support Iran's development of a sustainable and proliferation-proof civilian nuclear program, if international concerns were fully addressed and Iran's intentions established.
China has not yet received the official paper from the EU on its proposed solution to the nuclear issue, Liu said, hoping that the program would be a comprehensive, balanced one, which not only helps achieve the nonproliferation goal but also addresses Iran's reasonable concerns.
He said all parties concerned should work actively to start the next round of diplomatic negotiations.
On May 19, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the US, Russia, China, Britain and France -- and Germany will hold talks on the issue in London, and the EU is expected to table the new package to the meeting.
Meanwhile, China and Iran have always been in consultations on the issue and they are currently maintaining close contacts and coordination, Liu noted.
Turning to other matters, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit China from May 21 to 23, the first since she came to power in November 2005. A series of cooperative agreements and documents are expected to be signed during her stay.
Liu said that the two sides will exchange views on further developing China-Germany relations and some major international and regional issues of common concern.
President Hu Jintao will meet with Merkel. She will also hold talks with Premier Wen Jiabao and deliver a joint press briefing after the talks. Both Merkel and Wen will attend the fourth meeting of the China-Germany High-Tech Dialogue Forum.
In addition to Beijing, Merkel will also visit Shanghai.
China and Germany have cooperated fruitfully in various fields, including politics, economy and trade, culture, sports, technology and environmental protection, Liu said.
Bilateral trade volume in 2005 was valued at US$63.2 billion, accounting for nearly a third of the trade volume between China and the EU. Germany is China's biggest EU trading partner.
In the field of engineering, the two sides have made breakthroughs in the Shanghai magnetically levitated train project, a new area of China-Germany technological cooperation.
In other announcements, Liu said the 2nd Ministerial Meeting of China-Arab Cooperation Forum will be held in Beijing from May 31 to June 1.
"The foreign ministers or representatives of China and Arabian countries and secretary-general of the League of Arab States will attend the meeting," he said.
They will hold all-round and in-depth discussions on developing new China-Arab partnership and building China-Arab Cooperation Forum, he added.
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency May 17, 2006)