National / Politics

Lawmakers, China's vice president agree to improve bilateral ties


A group of Japanese lawmakers agreed Monday with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao that both countries need to make efforts to mend bilateral relations.

“At least three times, Vice President Li said that we should overlook minor disagreements for the sake of common interests. That’s important for Japan and China,” New Komeito lawmaker Kiyohiko Toyama, who heads the nonpartisan group, told a press conference in Beijing after the meeting.

Sino-Japanese ties have been badly damaged by past and recent disputes over territory and history.

The eight-member group said it asked Li to help set up what would be the first meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit, which is slated to held in November in the Chinese capital.

Li promised the group, which also includes Goshi Hosono, who could become the leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan next year, that he would convey the request to “relevant departments and agencies” of China, Toyama said.

“Having said that, he said, to remove political obstacles, we both need to create an environment and an atmosphere necessary” for the meeting, said Toyama, who described their talks as “extremely forward-looking.”

The talks were scheduled without an advance request from the group, said Toyama, who is viewed as a potential next-generation leader for pacifist New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

For months, China has repeatedly rebuffed Japanese calls, both public and private, for a face-to-face meeting between Abe and Xi, citing a heated territorial dispute over a group of small islets in the East China Sea and what Beijing views as Tokyo’s unrepentant attitude concerning its wartime atrocities and aggression.

The two countries have been making greater efforts to find ways to thaw relations, at least slightly, before this year’s APEC summit.

Abe’s government was formed in December 2012, but the foreign ministers of the two countries only held their first one-on-one talks earlier this month, in Myanmar during regional meetings.

In addition to claims by China and Taiwan to the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, a major sticking point has been Abe’s visit last December to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors past Japanese leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals along with millions of war dead.

In what was widely regarded as an attempt not to escalate tensions with China, Abe chose not to visit the shrine in Tokyo on Friday, the 69th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allied forces in World War II. He did, however, send a ritual offering to the shrine.