TOKYO — Japan protested to China on Thursday over its decision to ban a reporter for a conservative Japanese newspaper from covering talks between the countries' diplomats.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan lodged a protest over the exclusion of a Sankei Shimbun reporter from the opening of talks Wednesday between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba.

Sankei is known for its critical stance toward China.

Other Japanese reporters covering the event walked out in protest.

Suga said Japan protested later that day.

"Respect for basic human rights, including freedom of expression, as well as the rule of law, is a universal value in the international community and ensuring those rights is important in any country," he told reporters Thursday. "It is extremely regrettable that a case like this happened."

Akiba was in Beijing to discuss a possible visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to China later this year.

For years, Japan and China have had disputes over history and ownership of islands in the East China Sea. Their relations have begun to improve as they mark this year the 40 anniversary of the signing of a friendship treaty.