• Kyodo

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, in another sign of easing bilateral tensions, told a meeting Thursday with a longtime panel of advisers to both countries that Sino-Japanese relations “are very important” to the region.

“Since the two countries normalized diplomatic relations (in 1972), China’s principle and basic policy toward Japan has been consistent,” Li told members of the New Japan-China Friendship Committee for the 21st Century.

The meeting in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People took place after members of the committee agreed that deep mutual distrust between the two countries, particularly in politics and security, should be dispelled by having more exchanges in various fields.

It was Li’s first meeting on bilateral issues with a group of Japanese since taking office in March 2013, according to a Japanese government official.

Li said bilateral relations should be developed with the spirit of “taking history as a mirror and looking forward to the future,” but he did not touch on specific issues, such as the sovereignty dispute over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands off Taiwan, the official said.

Li said China does not want to damage its ties with Japan and proposed that the two countries have more multi-layered frameworks to consult a range of issues, Japan Post Holdings Co. President Taizo Nishimuro, co-chair of the committee, told a press conference.

The committee, an advisory body to the two governments, was holding its first formal meeting since October 2011, following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping last month.

The Abe-Xi talks, the first since both took power two years ago, took place on the margins of a regional economic summit on Nov. 10. They were symbolic rather than substantial, but paved the way for the resumption of high-level exchanges between the Asian powers.

In a related development, Japan and China are planning to restart a forum on energy conservation involving dozens of companies and senior government officials from both countries later this month in Beijing.

The forum, held every year since 2006, was suspended after 2012.

Japan-China relations have been chilly ever since Japan essentially nationalized the Senkaku chain in September 2012 and Abe made an official visit to war-related Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013.

The New Japan-China Friendship Committee, whose members include scholars, writers and former diplomats, will present a package of measures for improving ties to the two governments.

The discussions in the Chinese capital marked probably the last time the current membership will be together. They agreed to ask the two governments to select new members as soon as possible to help mend relations.

The committee had been led by Nishimuro and Chinese former State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan since their first meeting in February 2010. It had held four formal meetings since then.

The committee’s history dates back to 1984, following an agreement between then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang to further develop ties in various fields.

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