BEIJING – A senior Chinese official known to be close to President Xi Jinping is considering visiting Japan next month, sources said Monday.
If Li Xiaolin, the youngest daughter of former President Li Xiannian, does visit, she should likely hold talks with senior Japanese officials as the two countries try to improve relations at least slightly before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November in Beijing.
Li, head of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, was Xi’s “emissary” and met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo the day before he took office Dec. 26, 2012, sources said earlier.
Li, who has been a friend of Xi since they were children, also met secretly with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso as well as Masahiko Komura, vice chief of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, when she visited Tokyo in spring 2013, according to the sources.
The official reason for Li’s planned trip is to participate in an event aimed at promoting people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, the sources said.
In addition to the event in Osaka on Sept. 22 and 23, she is considering attending a ballet with the theme of friendship between Japan and China on Oct. 7 in Tokyo, the sources said.
Since Abe took office, there have been no official talks between him and Xi, mainly due to tension over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and China’s anger over Abe’s visit in December to Yasukuni Shrine.
Senior Chinese officials have said there will be no meeting between the two leaders unless Tokyo acknowledges the territorial dispute over the islets and Abe promises not to visit Yasukuni again.
But China since spring has been accepting various Japanese delegations and sending clearer signals that while the cause of the bilateral tension boils down to Abe, Beijing is willing to promote exchanges between the two countries.
Most recently, Vice President Li Yuanchao told a group of visiting Japanese lawmakers in Beijing in mid-August that the two countries should now “overlook minor disagreements for the sake of common interests” and both sides need to make efforts to mend bilateral relations.
Earlier this month, for the first time since Abe took power in 2012, the foreign ministers of the two countries also held one-on-one talks.
In late July, former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda met secretly with Xi in Beijing and discussed the possibility of a meeting between him and Abe on the sidelines of the APEC summit, according to sources familiar with the situation.