BEIJING - A ruling party heavyweight has invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Tokyo next year, as the two countries show promising signs of strengthening their sometimes strained relations.
The invitation was made on Thursday by Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, during his meeting with Xi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, according to a Japanese lawmaker traveling with him.
Xi smiled but did not give any reply, according to the lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“It is true that there were cold days in Japan-China relations but we overcame them,” Nikai told reporters after the meeting. “Today, we can feel spring-like warmth.”
China’s official media quoted Xi as calling for more party-to-party exchanges and cooperation between the two countries when he met with a delegation led by Nikai.
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the two countries’ treaty of friendship and peace, and Japanese government officials are hoping to arrange reciprocal visits by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Xi.
Since becoming head of the Communist Party in November 2012, Xi has never visited Japan.
For years Sino-Japanese relations were unsettled by a territorial dispute and disagreements over wartime history. But they have greatly stabilized since Xi further consolidated power in October’s twice-a-decade congress of the party and began his second five-year term as leader.
Nikai, known for his close ties with China, last met with Xi in May. This time, he is on a six-day visit through Friday with other lawmakers from Japan’s ruling coalition to discuss bilateral issues with a number of senior Chinese officials, including Song Tao, head of the Communist Party’s external affairs department.
Just before meeting with Xi, the delegation and State Councilor Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, held discussions on the North Korean nuclear issue and Beijing’s ambitious initiative of building a network of trade routes along and beyond the ancient Silk Road.
Earlier in the day, in a rare speech given by a Japanese lawmaker at the Chinese party’s school to train future elites, Nikai called for future-oriented cooperative relations with China.
Nikai said it is “now or never” for the two countries to open a new type of relationship as both sides have “strong leaders.”
He said China and Japan, the world’s second- and third-largest economies, have great responsibilities for shaping the future together, and that the two countries under a “new era” should move on from a “mutually beneficial relationship” to one that can substantially contribute to peace and prosperity in Asia and beyond.
The LDP grandee said there is plenty of room for the two countries to cooperate on infrastructure projects in other parts of Asia, with an eye to Xi’s flagship One Belt, One Road initiative.
Speaking at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, he also cited intellectual property and the environment as other possible areas of cooperation that could be increased.