• Kyodo

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Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and the head of the Keidanren business lobby agreed Wednesday to expand bilateral economic cooperation despite continuing political tensions.

“Although China and Japan are currently fighting about historical issues” and over which country controls a group of islands in the East China Sea, “we have to advance our business activities,” Li told Keidanren Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura as they began talks in Beijing. The group is also called the Japan Business Federation.

The meeting took place amid accusations between Tokyo and Beijing about aggressive flying tactics allegedly used by Chinese fighter jets when they intercepted SDF planes over the weekend over the East China Sea.

But the one-hour meeting at the Great Hall of the People was forward-looking and positive, as the vice president stopped short of addressing the aviation row or other sensitive issues, a senior Keidanren official said.

While conveying China’s basic stance toward Japan in general terms, Li noted that Beijing’s claim to the islands is “unwavering” and called on Tokyo to face up to its past militarism, the official said.

“The only correct direction to take is that in which China and Japan firmly maintain peace and friendship. The Chinese government attaches great importance to its relations with Japan, and that remains unchanged,” the official quoted Li as saying.

Yonekura told Li that Keidanren, Japan’s biggest and most influential business lobby, is committed to advancing “private-sector diplomacy” in the hopes of restarting frequent contacts at the government level, the official said.

Underscoring the ties between Asia’s two biggest economies, Yonekura said, “China’s development is not a threat to Japan.” Yonekura will step down as Keidanren chief next week.

While continuing to criticize Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, China has started accepting high-level nongovernmental delegations from Tokyo, in recent weeks indicating a willingness to promote exchanges between parliamentarians, business leaders and local government officials.

Beijing hosted a visit by the governor of Tokyo in late April and has since arranged a flurry of meetings between senior Chinese officials and Japanese delegations. Among them, a group of lawmakers led by the vice president of Abe’s ruling party held talks with Zhang Dejiang, the third-highest ranking member of the Communist Party of China, on May 5.

In that meeting, the vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party, Masahiko Komura, told Zhang that Abe wants to meet one-to-one on the sidelines of this year’s summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November in Beijing.

Four days later, Yu Zhengsheng, ranked fourth in the Party’s powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, told a different group of Japanese lawmakers that there are two preconditions for the Chinese leadership to restart political dialogue with Abe’s government.

They are a promise by Abe not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine again and to admit formally that a dispute exists over uninhabited islands, which are administered by Japan.