BEIJING – A veteran Japanese diplomat secretly visited Beijing in mid-September with the aim of finding common ground to arrange the first official summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, sources familiar with the situation said.
Hideo Tarumi, who has a great deal of experience dealing with Chinese affairs, was also in Beijing this spring behind the scenes, the sources said on Tuesday. There is a strong possibility that he was charged with a secret mission from Abe, they said.
Ahead of this year’s summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing on Nov. 10 and 11, Japan and China have been making diplomatic contact in an attempt to reduce tensions heightened by the Senkaku territorial dispute and wartime issues.
But so far, Xi has refused to hold an official meeting with Abe, who took office in 2012.
Chinese senior officials have repeatedly said the meeting can only take place if the Japanese government acknowledges that a dispute exists over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls Diaoyu, and Abe promises not to visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine again.
Tarumi, who was minister responsible for political affairs at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing before he was reassigned to Tokyo last year, is known to be close to Shotaro Yachi, a key foreign policy adviser to Abe.
Tarumi’s visits were confirmed by diplomatic sources who spoke on condition of anonymity after the discovery earlier this month that Yachi had accompanied former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to a secret meeting with Xi in Beijing in late July.
At that time, Yachi, the top bureaucrat in the new National Security Council, also met with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to convey Abe’s intention to improve bilateral ties.
But the Chinese side maintained that Japan’s acceptance of the two major conditions related to the islands and Yasukuni are necessary for a summit between Xi and Abe, according to government sources in Tokyo.
Abe’s visit last December to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal along with the nation’s war dead, further irked China.
Nevertheless, Yachi and Yang are still exploring the possibility of finding acceptable conditions for both countries before organizing a formal meeting between Abe and Xi.
One of the diplomatic sources said Tarumi is believed to have made contact with Chinese officials who are part of the ongoing consultation process between Yachi and Yang, China’s top diplomat.
The spring visit by Tarumi took place when China began accepting various delegations from Tokyo.