• Kyodo

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The government might ask Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Japan in the latter half of 2018 as a state guest, government sources said Saturday.

To lay the groundwork, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to visit China in the first half of next year, the sources said. If Xi visits Japan, he will be the first Chinese president to do so since Hu Jintao in 2008.

Abe last visited China in September 2016.

Japan hopes to build closer relationships with China and join hands in addressing North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons drive.

Tokyo also aims to improve relations soured by Japan’s effective nationalization of the Senkaku Islands, which China and Taiwan also claim.

On Monday, Abe expressed interest in cooperating with the Xi administration’s Belt and Road Initiative if certain conditions are met. Beijing’s initiative aims to build closer economic links along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes.

A Japanese official said Xi is likely to strengthen his power base through the Communist Party congress this autumn.

“Next year will be the year to improve conditions to promote Japan-China relations,” the official said.

According to the sources, Shotaro Yachi, head of the secretariat of the Japanese National Security Council, told State Councilor Yang Jiechi when Beijing’s top diplomat visited Japan for talks in late May that Abe and Xi should visit each other’s nations within the next year.

The government is considering inviting Xi after Abe attends the trilateral summit next year in Beijing involving Japan, China and South Korea.

The government is trying to set up a summit for the Chinese and Japanese leaders on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, in early July. At that meeting, Abe is likely to tell Xi that Japan is keen to promote bilateral cooperation ahead of his visit to China.

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