• Kyodo

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A senior Chinese political leader said Tuesday the country’s once frosty relations with Japan have started thawing following a series of recent exchanges.

“Sino-Japanese relations have taken the welcoming initial step toward improving,” Zhang Dejiang, ranked third in China’s Communist Party, told a cross-party group of Japanese lawmakers at the outset of a meeting in Beijing.

The group’s three-day visit to Beijing that started Monday came after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping met April 22 for the second time in five months and agreed to advance a range of exchanges to enhance mutual trust, despite outstanding disagreements over territory and wartime history.

The 11-member delegation was led by Masahiko Komura, vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Among other issues, a statement that Abe is due to issue this summer marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II was expected to top the agenda for the meeting between the Japan-China Friendship Parliamentarians Union and Zhang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

China believes Japan has not done enough to atone for its atrocities before and during the war, calling on Abe many times to include a full apology in the forthcoming statement.

Former Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, in a meeting Monday night with the lawmakers, expressed frustration with Abe’s speech to the U.S. Congress last week, saying it did not follow the language of a landmark 1995 statement on Japanese wartime behavior.

In the first-ever speech by a Japanese leader at a joint meeting of the U.S. legislature, Abe stopped short of offering an unequivocal apology for Japan’s wartime actions, nor did he mention the words “colonial rule” and “aggression” used by previous governments.

Abe, however, acknowledged that Japan brought suffering to people in other Asian countries and pledged to “uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers” in that regard, while saying the Japanese feel “deep remorse” over the war.

Abe has said he feels it unnecessary to repeat the phrases of Japan’s past apologies for its wartime behavior, given that he already promised his government will stick to them.

Instead of doing that, Abe, seen by China as having nationalistic and revisionist tendencies, has said he wants to come up with a future-oriented statement on the occasion of the war anniversary.

Others who attended the meeting with Zhang included Kazuo Kitagawa, deputy chief of the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, and Yoshiaki Takaki, a senior lawmaker of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

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