A special adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe secretly visited Beijing earlier this week in an apparent effort to improve strained relations with China, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga admitted Thursday at a news conference.

Earlier in the day, TV Asahi reported that Shotaro Yachi, former vice foreign minister and a long-time ally of Abe, made an unofficial visit to Beijing to see high-ranking Chinese officials there.

Suga confirmed the report at the press conference but declined further comment.