• Kyodo

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Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng is expressing concern over the recent sharp fall in direct investment from Japan.

Gao and other senior Chinese officials, meeting Tuesday with a group of visiting Japanese business executives, said Beijing and Tokyo should prevent their strained diplomatic relations from damaging the growth of Asia’s two biggest economies, some of the Japanese participants said.

The group was headed by Fujio Cho, honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corp.

“We don’t want to see the economies affected by cooling political relations,” one participant quoted Gao as saying.

The minister said sluggish economic activity would not be of mutual benefit, adding that he hopes both governments “move toward the same direction” for improved bilateral ties.

At a time when China’s economy is facing downward pressure, the Commerce Ministry said last week that direct investment from Japan to the country in the first eight months of 2014 dropped 43.3 percent from the same period last year to $3.16 billion.

Also present was Sadayuki Sakakibara, head of the Keidanren business lobby. He told reporters afterwards that the private sector must play a bigger role in easing political tensions between the two countries heightened by territorial and wartime historical issues.

“By activating economic exchanges between Japan and China, I want to increase bilateral mutual trust and improve the situation on political and diplomatic fronts,” Sakakibara said. He added that he planned to convey “such feelings” in a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang on Wednesday.

The visit by the mission of around 200 executives from leading Japanese firms comes fewer than two months before Beijing hosts a regional summit in which the Japanese and Chinese leaders may have a chance to hold official talks for the first time.

This year’s mission is the biggest ever in the history of the Japan-China Economic Association, which began sending delegations in 1975, three years after the two countries normalized diplomatic relations. It has sent groups almost every year.

In addition to meeting with Gao, the delegation exchanged views over the latest status of the two economies with senior officials from the National Development and Reform Commission.

Zhu Zhixin, a vice chairman of the commission, briefed the executives on Chinese reforms aimed at securing sustainable development by rebalancing its growth away from a heavy reliance on investment toward domestic consumption and innovation, the Japanese participants said.

The mission agreed with the senior officials that there is much potential for cooperation on antipollution and energy-saving measures.

The group told the Chinese side it wants to organize an energy conservation forum at an early date, bringing together senior government officials and dozens of companies.

Such forums were held every year from 2006 to 2012. They were then suspended amid heightened tensions over the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which China claims.

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