BEIJING – The fourth-highest ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party, Yu Zhengsheng, has expressed hope for improved ties with Japan but said this depends on whether Tokyo will officially acknowledge that a dispute exists over the Senkaku Islands.
During a meeting in Beijing on Friday with a Japanese delegation headed by senior opposition lawmaker Takahiro Yokomichi, Yu suggested it will be difficult to arrange a summit between the two countries unless the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “admits that there is a dispute” over the uninhabited chain in the East China Sea.
The meeting between the group of Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers, led by Yokomichi, a former Lower House speaker, and Yu was arranged about two weeks ahead of the first anniversary of the central government’s move to nationalize the Senkakus.
Yokomichi said he told Yu that Japan and China should hold a summit to overcome the current difficulties, although the Senkakus are Japanese territory historically and under international law.
Yokomichi quoted Yu as saying that if the government “can admit that there is a dispute and defer the issue I think (the current difficulties) can be resolved soon, but that’s not probably how it works for Japan.”
“I will wait forever,” Yu said, according to Yokomichi, who told him instead that “if we allow the current state to drag on, tensions will escalate and who knows what will happen” so that the two countries need to settle the situation “as soon as possible.”
During the meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes, Yu reportedly also said that “these days, Japan’s perception of history has changed.”
Since the purchase of three of the islets from their Japanese owner on Sept. 11 last year by the DPJ-led administration, relations between Tokyo and Beijing have sunk to their lowest point in decades.
The islets, controlled by Japan for more than 100 years, are claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu, and Taiwan, whose name for them is Tiaoyutai.
Japan’s official position is that there “exists no issue of territorial sovereignty to be resolved concerning the Senkaku Islands.” It says China did not begin claiming them until 1971, after an academic survey indicated the possibility of petroleum resources in the surrounding sea area.
It is the first time in two months that a member of China’s top political body, the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, has met with any Japanese political figure.
Yukio Hatoyama, who no longer has a Diet seat after being prime minister from 2009 to 2010, met with Premier Li Ke-qiang in late June.
While no top-level political meetings between the two countries have been held since Abe took power last December, China has welcomed visits by some retired political leaders known as being pro-China, including Hatoyama and Hiromu Nonaka, a former chief Cabinet secretary.
Yokomichi has friendly ties with China as well. Unlike Abe, who has hawkish political views, he opposes amending the war-renouncing Constitution.
When Yokomichi visited China in May 2012, the first official trip there by a Lower House speaker in eight years, he met with then-Vice President Xi Jinping, who succeeded Hu Jintao as president in March.