China and Japan will hold a high-level consultation on maritime affairs later today with the Diaoyu Islands expected to take center stage, but analysts warned of a rocky road ahead in terms of making progress.
The consultation held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, is the first round of the mechanism, which was established by the two sides during Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's visit to Beijing in December.
According to the China News Service, during the one-day consultation foreign and defense ministries from both countries will be joined by China's State Oceanic Administration and Japan Coast Guard.
The Japanese delegation will also visit China's maritime surveillance authorities after the consultation, China Central Television reported.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters yesterday that China hopes the mechanism can provide a platform for timely communication on maritime affairs between the two sides.
Jin Yongming, an expert on maritime law with the Institute of Law under the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the new mechanism represents a fresh start in resolving maritime issues.
"Since 1998, Beijing and Tokyo have held several rounds of consultation on the East China Sea, but none has yielded substantial progress, with the Diaoyu Islands being the most sticky issue," Jin said.
In recent years, Japan has accelerated its pace in making territorial claims and seizing resources in the East China Sea.
Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara last month announced that the metropolitan government had set up an account for people to donate money to help it purchase the Diaoyu Islands, drawing immediate protests from China.
Jin said by reaching out for a comprehensive consultation, the two sides could clarify their respective stances for a negotiated end, but cautioned that there was a rocky road ahead.
"Compared with the maritime issues in the South China Sea, the one in the East China Sea is more complicated due to the Japan-US security treaty, which covers the Diaoyu Islands," Jin said, noting that the consultation may set a model for resolving similar issues, if it is proven effective.
Besides maritime disputes, bilateral relations between the two neighbors have also been affected by Japan's decision to allow a separatist group to hold a meeting in Tokyo.
The Kyodo News reported that China canceled Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi's meeting set for last night with Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, without specifying any reason.
Kyodo said the cancellation could be linked to the ongoing "World Uyghur Congress" in Tokyo, over which China expressed strong discontent.
It added that the Tokyo meeting could also have been a factor behind the failure to arrange a meeting between Noda and Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday, after Sunday's Japan-China-South Korea summit in Beijing.
The so-called World Uyghur Congress, which has links with various terrorist organizations, is a thoroughly anti-China separatist organization, Hong said.
On Monday, several members of the group visited the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese soldiers, including World War II war criminals, are honored.
Lü Yaodong, a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the Japanese government is to blame for the cooling ties.
"To tackle his declining approval rate, Noda is appealing to the right wing by magnifying disputes between China and Japan," said Lü, calling on Tokyo not to seek political gains at the cost of Sino-Japanese relations.