BEIJING – A cross-party group of Upper House lawmakers resumed exchanges with China’s parliament for the first time in four years this week, in yet another sign of a general improvement in relations between the Asian powers.
However, the Japanese delegation visited Beijing on Monday at a diplomatically delicate time as the two countries take different positions on issues involving the South China Sea and North Korea, and this could be a source of new friction.
The highlight of the delegation’s itinerary was a meeting with Zhang Dejiang, who ranks third in the Chinese Communist Party and is chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.
“China-Japan relations still face problems,” Zhang said at the outset of the meeting in the Great Hall of the People. “Efforts from both sides are needed.”
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida had hoped to talk with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, over the phone after North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
But this conversation has not taken place, with Japanese officials say the Chinese side has refused.
Earlier this year, Kishida said he planned to visit China around spring to accelerate the process of repairing bilateral ties severely soured over the Senkaku territorial dispute and wartime history issues.
But Kishida also had to abandon that plan because China was opposed to the idea of Wang meeting with him in the near future, according to diplomatic sources.
China has become increasingly frustrated with the Japanese government’s repeated criticism of Beijing over its activities in the disputed South China Sea, the sources said.
In addition, China has been annoyed by Japan’s call, along with the United States and South Korea, to implement tougher measures on North Korea following the January nuclear test and its de facto long-range missile test on Feb. 7.
The Japanese delegation, in the Chinese capital for a three-day visit that started Sunday, consisted of 10 Upper House lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties.
The group was headed by Kensei Mizote of the Liberal Democratic Party.
The Upper House and the National People’s Congress held similar meetings almost annually since 2007, until they were suspended after the previous meeting was held in March 2012 due to tensions over the Senkaku Islands.
Separately, the ruling coalition and the Lower House restarted regular exchanges with their Chinese counterparts last year.