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Published: Thursday January 9, 2014 MYT 11:45:01 PM
Updated: Thursday January 9, 2014 MYT 11:46:05 PM

Japan urges 'hotline' with China, plays down shrine visit

PARIS (Reuters) - Japan, at odds with China on territorial and other issues, took its case to Europe on Thursday, defending Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to a war shrine and reiterating its call for an emergency hotline between Tokyo and Beijing.

Ties between the two Asian economic giants, never warm, were further strained last month when Abe visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals are enshrined with other war dead, angering China and South Korea.

Beijing and Tokyo are also arguing over ownership of a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea. China has said it is willing to talk to Japan about the issue but has accused Abe of not being serious about wanting to resolve the dispute.

Speaking at a news conference with their French counterparts, Japan's Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Tokyo's sole objective was building a durable peace in the Asian-Pacific region.

"We need a hotline for dialogue," Onodera said, speaking through an interpreter. "We spoke to China about this, but sadly this dialogue is not open, but we must re-open it."

Japan and China agreed in 2011 to hold discussions on setting up a defence hotline for maritime and air emergencies.

But their talks stalled after the Japanese government bought the disputed islands from a private landowner in 2012 to fend off a potentially more inflammatory purchase by the Tokyo city government, then headed by a nationalist governor.

APOLOGY

China took its propaganda war with Japan to the United Nations on Wednesday, questioning Abe's motives for visiting the Yasukuni Shrine and calling on him to correct his "erroneous outlook" on history.

Both China and Korea suffered under brutal Japanese rule, with parts of China occupied in the 1930s and Korea colonized from 1910 to 1945.

Responding to a question from a Chinese journalist at the Paris news conference, Kishida said Abe had apologised to those in China and South Korea who had felt offended. He added that Abe had gone there to pray for peace.

"It is a shrine where we go to pray for the souls of two million Japanese who lost their lives for their country," Kumio said. "It was to show our sadness and pray for a world without war. We have to continue dialogue and the prime minister will continue to explain his motivations for the visit."

France has little influence in the Asian region but is keen to boost its economic ties there. It is also one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, along with China, Japan's key ally the United States, Russia and Britain.

"The tensions (between China and Japan) are a source of concern," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. "We want this part of the world to find solutions to ease tensions."

Kishida and Onodera were in Paris for the first joint meeting of French and Japanese defence and foreign ministers. It followed a similar meeting between Japan and Russia in November.

Paris and Tokyo agreed to consult each other on procedures and mechanisms to control the export of military materials and goods with potential military use.

Japan had pressed for such an accord after France sold ship-based helicopter-landing equipment to China which Tokyo fears could improve Beijing's ability to patrol the contested islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

Further talks will be held in April to firm up a potential military partnership between France and Japan, including for next-generation helicopters, submarine propulsion and underwater drones, the ministers said.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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