BEIJING – Former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda secretly visited Beijing on Sunday and is thought to have held a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in an effort to help the two countries mend their soured relationship, according to sources.
Both the Chinese and Japanese sides have been trying to prevent Fukuda’s visit, and the possible Xi-Fukuda meeting, from being made public.
Xi has not held a one-on-one meeting with a Japanese political leader since he met in January 2013 with Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Japan-China relations have been strained over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by China, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit last December to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class-A Japanese war criminals along with the war dead and is thus regarded by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
Abe has proposed meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Beijing in November.
According to the sources, Fukuda and Xi are believed to have explored the possibility of arranging the Abe-Xi meeting.
It appears that China accepted Fukuda’s visit as the country’s leadership is becoming more open to the prospect of improving ties with Japan.
But when a senior Japanese official visited China recently, Beijing demanded that Japan shelve the island issue and Abe refrain from making further visits to Yasukuni Shrine. At the Fukuda-Xi meeting, the Chinese side appears to have made similar requests, the sources said.
Fukuda heads the board of directors of the Boao Forum of Asia, which meets annually on China’s Hainan island for talks on issues facing the region. He met with Xi when the Chinese leader attended the forum’s meeting in April 2013.