• Kyodo

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Japan and China plan to resume an exchange program between young Japanese bureaucrats and aspiring Chinese government officials in 2018 after a more than five-year hiatus, bilateral sources say.

The plan to restart the program involving Japanese bureaucrats from the foreign, economy and agriculture ministries and students from China’s elite Central Party School comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shown a desire to improve ties with China, with an eye on President Xi Jinping making a visit to Japan, the sources said Sunday.

But the outlook for Xi’s visit is unclear as tensions remain high over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, an islet group long administered by Japan but claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu, and Taiwan, which calls them Tiaoyutai.

A Chinese submarine and a frigate were recently spotted near Japanese territorial waters in the area.

The exchange program was suspended after the Japanese government effectively put the uninhabited islets under state control in September 2012, triggering a fierce response from China, which has been sending government vessels into the surrounding waters ever since.

But in an effort to mend ties, Japan asked for China’s cooperation in resuming the program by fall last year, one of the sources said. The Chinese side responded positively, telling Toshihiro Nikai, a senior member of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, in December that it is again open to the exchanges, the source said.

“Through the exchanges, we hope the next-generation of elites who will lead the China of tomorrow will have a sense of closeness to Japan,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said in Tokyo.

The exchange program started in 2000, paving the way for dozens of Japanese bureaucrats and Chinese students to visit each other nearly every year.

In resuming the program, Japan hopes to have the Chinese up-and-comers visit various ministries, agencies and governments to learn about Japan’s system of administration.

The Central Party School, headed by leading figures such as China’s former President Hu Jintao and President Xi in the past and considered an important step up the Chinese Communist Party ladder, is attended by mid-ranking central and local party officials.

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