• Kyodo

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China’s fourth-highest ranking official has urged Japan to stay away from South China Sea disputes and thereby help improve bilateral relations.

The issues have “nothing to do with Japan,” Yu Zhengsheng was quoted as saying in a meeting Monday with a group of Diet members visiting Beijing.

According to a member of the delegation from the Liberal Democratic Party, Yu said “it is not fair” that Japan, along with the United States, only criticizes China but not the Philippines and other Asian claimants.

China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, which is a vital shipping lane and believed to have rich fishing grounds.

Earlier this month, China said some of its land reclamation activities around reefs in the archipelago, known internationally as the Spratly Islands, will be completed soon, despite regional calls to immediately stop them.

These activities have recently heightened tensions not only with the Philippines, the most vocal opponent in recent months to China’s increasing assertiveness among other rival claimants, but also with the United States.

During the meeting with the LDP lawmakers, Yu said Beijing-Tokyo relations are on a better track compared with a year ago.

“At that time, Sino-Japanese relations still had relatively many troublesome matters,” he told the lawmakers, referring to a meeting he had with a visiting group of LDP lawmakers in May last year. “But this time the situation is different.”

“In this kind of environment, I am very pleased to hold dialogue,” Yu, who ranks fourth in the Chinese Communist Party leadership, said at the outset of the meeting in the Great Hall of the People, which was open to the press.

To build mutual trust, Yu, China’s top political adviser, said it is also important to weaken the perception of a “China threat” gaining traction in Japan and for political leaders in Tokyo to be sufficiently sincere when apologizing for Japan’s wartime acts, according to veteran LDP lawmaker Takeshi Noda, head of the group.

High-level political exchanges between Japan and China have been increasing since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first meeting with President Xi Jinping in November, although disputes persist over the Senkaku Islands and wartime history issues.

On Saturday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Japan’s reluctance to accept China’s re-emergence is “the root cause” of many of the current problems in diplomatic relations.

During a forum attended by former officials and scholars in Beijing, Wang also urged Abe to have “correct” views on Japan’s past militarism, without referring to him by name.

As China is paying attention to what Abe will say for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II this summer, Wang said he wonders whether the prime minister will “continue to stay in the shadow of history and place himself in the seat of defendant of history or will he be making efforts to achieve a genuine reconciliation.”

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