BEIJING – Beijing’s relations with Tokyo are improving, and both sides should overcome political differences to expand cooperation, China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli told a mission of more than 200 Japanese businessmen in Beijing on Wednesday.
He noted Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this month and said ties have taken a turn for the better, according to an official accompanying the group.
Zhang also said both sides need to make efforts to manage “sensitive issues” such as the touchy question of Japan’s wartime actions and the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, the official said.
As talks kicked off at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Zhang welcomed efforts by the Japanese business community to build good bilateral ties even at a time when politics are tense.
In response, Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, told Zhang that “the establishment of sound political and diplomatic relations is indispensable for the development of the Japanese and the Chinese economies.”
Some of the businessmen spelled out concerns they have.
“We hope (China) will steadily address the issue of overproduction,” Shoji Muneoka, chairman of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., told Zhang, one of seven members of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, China’s apex of power. His portfolio includes overseeing its economic policies.
In their first talks in nearly 1½ years, Abe and Xi agreed to expand positive aspects in the relationship despite differences over territorial issues.
Earlier in the day, the business delegation also urged Chinese officials to rein in excess capacity in the steel industry and advance economic reforms.
“The global steel industry has suffered a serious blow” from China’s cheap exports of steel products, Muneoka, the head of the delegation, said in a meeting with the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning agency.
“We hope that you press forward with reforms of overproduction and other issues steadily,” Muneoka told the commission’s officials.
China has promised to accelerate its oft-repeated “supply-side reform” and insisted that it is already making progress in that endeavor.
However, excess capacity in industries such as steel, despite weak demand, remain a primary economic concern for nations such as Japan and the United States, with corporate executives saying it is distorting global market prices.
Despite persistent political difficulties between the two countries, the Japan-China Economic Association has sent high-profile corporate executives to Beijing almost annually since 1975.
For the second straight year, the delegation was joined by both the Japan Business Federation, also known as Keidanren, and the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The delegation requested a meeting with Xi or Premier Li Keqiang during the latest visit, but these did not materialize.
Last year, the group met with the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, who is currently overseas.
That meeting was the first time since 2009 that a Chinese president or premier met with the business mission.