BEIJING – The top Chinese official who was involved in fostering nongovernment ties with Japan met a delegation led by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on Monday in what appears to be Beijing’s latest attempt to mend soured bilateral ties.
The delegates met by former State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan included two senior politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Buddhist-backed New Komeito.
The visit by Murayama, who arrived in Beijing earlier in the day, came just days after China’s new leader Xi Jinping told a senior Japanese politician that China wants to promote a “strategic relationship of mutual benefit” with Japan.
Ties between Japan and China have sunk to their lowest level in years amid an acrimonious territorial dispute over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China claims the Japan-held isles as Diaoyu. Taiwan claims them as Tiaoyutai.
Both began making formal claims to the isles in the 1970s after speculation rose they were rich in gas and oil deposits.
Murayama, who was prime minister from 1994 to 1996 and is now an “honorary adviser” to the Japan-China Friendship Association, was accompanied by deputy LDP Secretary General Gen Nakatani, deputy New Komeito Secretary General Shigeyuki Tomita, and former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato, who is also chairman of the Japan-China Friendship Association.
Tang, head of the China-Japan Friendship Association, set the high-level dialogue in motion when he invited New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi to Beijing last week.
Yamaguchi met with Xi on Friday and handed him a personal letter from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Xi told Yamaguchi that he “will seriously consider” holding a summit with Abe, who took office after the LDP won a landslide victory in the Dec. 16 general election.
The top leaders of China and Japan haven’t met since the Senkakus dispute broke out after the Japanese government effectively nationalized the islands by outbidding the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s offer to their private owner in Saitama Prefecture.
If Tokyo’s bid had won, the islands would be in the hands of its former governor, outspoken nationalist Shintaro Ishihara.