• Kyodo

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Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang reportedly said Wednesday that a ministerial-level economic dialogue with Japan should resume despite lingering bilateral tensions, referring to talks that have been frozen since August 2010.

Wang is one of China’s four deputy premiers and oversees foreign trade. He was speaking during a meeting in Beijing with a Japanese business mission headed by Toyota Motor Corp. Honorary Chairman Fujio Cho, delegation members said.

Cho later told journalists he believes the ice has “started to thaw.”

The dialogue, co-hosted by a Chinese vice premier and the Japanese foreign minister, began in 2007 as an initiative of Shinzo Abe during his first stint as prime minister and Premier Wen Jiabao.

Meanwhile, the business delegation discussed with Wang ways of reinforcing economic ties. They agreed the two countries should work harder to ease tensions for mutual benefit, said Sadayuki Sakakibara, head of Keidanren, Japan’s main business lobby.

Sakakibara reportedly told Wang at the outset of the meeting that China “is an irreplaceable partner.”

Wang replied that China has “attached a very high value to you leading this big delegation to China.”

This is the biggest delegation ever sent by the Japan-China Economic Association.

The day ahead of the meeting, Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng told the mission of about 200 business executives that he is concerned about the decline in direct investment from Japan in China in recent months, delegation members said.

The Commerce Ministry said last week that direct investment from Japan in the first eight months of 2014 dropped 43.3 percent from a year earlier to $3.16 billion.

Sakakibara told reporters Tuesday the sharp fall is due to multiple factors, including China’s rising labor costs and the recent depreciation of the yen against major currencies. But a major reason is frayed political relations between Tokyo and Beijing.

Abe has indicated he would like to hold formal talks with President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a regional summit in November.

If that comes about, it would be their first such meeting since Abe took office in December 2012.

While China has criticized Abe for what it sees as his reluctance to atone for Japan’s wartime atrocities, it has also been sending signals that it is willing to promote bilateral exchanges between companies and private individuals.

However, it remains unclear whether China is ready to accept Abe’s request for a bilateral summit on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum leaders’ meeting, set for Nov. 10 and 11 in Beijing.

During the meeting with Wang, which lasted about 90 minutes, the Japanese group also called for formal talks between Abe and Xi, members said.

Wang did not comment on the matter. Neither did he blame the difficult political situation on Japan, unlike the mission’s previous meeting with him last November.

With the hope of building momentum for a meeting between Abe and Xi, the Japanese economic association sought to see Xi or Premier Li Keqiang during the delegation’s four-day stay in Beijing through Thursday.

The association started sending missions to China in 1975, three years after the two countries normalized diplomatic relations.

Since then, a delegation has gone to China each year, except in 2012, and most years has secured a meeting with either the president or premier. The last such highest-level meeting was in 2009.

The association had not heard whether China would offer a meeting with Xi or Li this time.

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