BEIJING – A group of senior Japanese lawmakers on Monday held talks with Zhang Dejiang, ranked third in the Communist Party of China, and is likely to mention Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s readiness to hold his formal first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this year.
The head of the delegation, Masahiko Komura, vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters that he relayed Abe’s hopes off meeting with Xi on the sidelines of this year’s summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November in Beijing to former Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan on Sunday night.
The cross-party delegation’s three-day visit to Beijing through Tuesday comes at a frosty time in which almost no high-level political contacts exist between the two countries, a situation that has lasted for several years.
Abe, the LDP chief, and Xi have yet to hold official talks since they each came to office more than a year ago, separated by continued tensions over a territorial dispute and divergent perceptions of wartime history.
Under such circumstances, China arranged a meeting between Zhang, the head of the parliament who sits on the party’s powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, and the delegation at the Great Hall of the People on Monday evening.
It is the first time that a senior lawmaker from the LDP has met with anyone from the Politburo Standing Committee since Abe’s government was formed in December 2012.
“The Chinese side also thinks that the situation should not remain as it is. So I believe that it has set a meeting for us with National People’s Congress Chairman Zhang Dejiang,” Komura said ahead of the meeting with him.
The delegation, which includes Katsuya Okada, former president of the Democratic Party of Japan and New Komeito deputy chief Kazuo Kitagawa, arrived in Beijing earlier Sunday.
Attention was focused on whether any top official in the Chinese leadership under Xi would meet with the delegation of the Japan-China Friendship Parliamentarians’ Union.
The lawmakers’ visit was initially sounded out by the Chinese side in March, despite there having been hardly any contact between the two countries’ senior officials for some time.
Still, China has not closed the door on exchanges between business leaders and local officials, even as it continues to sharply criticize Abe at home and abroad, especially after his visit to war-related Yasukuni Shrine in December.
In one apparent snub, the government of Beijing recently invited Yoichi Masuzoe to become the first governor of Tokyo to visit the capital in 18 years.
In addition to holding talks with Beijing Mayor Wang An-shun, Masuzoe met with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang.
The two leaders agreed on the need to promote exchanges between municipalities, business organizations and students despite the dim prospects for resuming high-level contacts between their central governments anytime soon.