BEIJING – A senior Chinese politician hopes to pave the way for Beijing and Tokyo to hold the first formal meeting between their leaders on the sidelines of a regional summit in November, a source familiar with the matter said Thursday.
“China also wants to create the environment for mutual concessions. It is important to have the environment of both sides making efforts to aim for the meeting,” the source quoted Wang Jiarui, head of the International Department of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, as saying when he held talks with Japanese opposition lawmakers Monday in Beijing.
“Leaving this situation as it is will damage both countries,” he was quoted as saying. “There are adverse effects on corporate activities and investment. We have to find a way out of the difficulties.”
Wang, however, also told a delegation from the Social Democratic Party led by chief Tadatomo Yoshida that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first needs to make clear what he wants to discuss with Chinese President Xi Jinping if a meeting becomes possible, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“There is no point in holding a meeting between the two leaders if the prime minister maintains his wrong position toward China,” Wang said, according to the source.
Wang’s remarks are believed to have been aimed at seeking compromises or new approaches from the Japanese government over territorial and historical issues that have brought relations between the countries to their lowest point in many decades.
On Tuesday, when China’s fourth-highest ranking member of the Communist Party, Yu Zhengsheng, met with the delegation from the small opposition party, he said that whether bilateral relations can be improved depends on the choices Abe makes in the coming months.
Yu, chairman of China’s top political advisory body, said that for the leaders’ meeting to be held on the sidelines of this year’s summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing, Abe needs to change his stance on two issues — war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo and a group of Japan-controlled islets in the East China Sea.
Wang also attended the meeting between Yu and the Japanese delegation. Wang’s remarks, likely reflecting the Chinese leadership’s latest thinking toward Japan, have not been made public either by the Communist Party or Yoshida, who held a news conference after meeting with the two politicians.
Abe and Xi have yet to hold official talks since they each came to office more than a year ago.
Sino-Japanese relations, already strained over the Senkaku Islands, were further aggravated with Abe’s December visit to the shrine, which honors millions of war dead along with Japanese military leaders who were convicted as Class-A war criminals by an Allied tribunal.
Yu did not specify what exactly Abe needs to do when he met with the Japanese delegation, but what he meant was presumably similar to a message he conveyed to the Japanese government during a meeting last month with lawmakers from Abe’s ruling party.
Yu told the delegation of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that bilateral relations can be repaired if Abe promises not to visit the shrine again and his government admits the existence of a sovereignty dispute over the Senkakus, a small chain of uninhabited islets off Taiwan claimed as Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai by Taiwan.
Since spring, senior Chinese officials have begun accepting various Japanese delegations and sending clearer signals that, while the cause of soured ties boils down to Abe’s political stance, Beijing is nevertheless willing to promote exchanges with Japanese companies, political parties and local government officials.
In the latest in a series of visits from Japan, transport minister Akihiro Ota arrived in Beijing on Thursday. He is the first time Japanese minister to visit the Chinese capital since Abe’s government was formed in December 2012.
During his visit through Saturday, Ota, a former leader of New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Abe’s ruling LDP, is hoping to meet with senior Chinese officials and attend the 2014 Beijing International Tourism Expo.
On Friday, Ota is scheduled to meet with Chinese officials including Vice Premier Liu Yandong, Shao Qiwei, head of the National Tourism Administration, and former Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, according to Japanese officials.
In the virtual absence of high-level government-to-government contacts between the two countries, a group led by Masahiko Komura, vice president of the LDP, also held talks with Zhang Dejiang, ranked third in the Communist Party’s powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, in May.
Komura told Zhang that Abe is hoping to hold an official meeting with Xi when the APEC summit takes place in Beijing.