BEIJING – Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has said that improvements in ties with Japan have recently shown signs of gaining momentum ahead of a significant anniversary of the signing of a friendship treaty between the two countries.
During a Monday meeting with a business delegation from Tokyo led by a former lawmaker, Li said China would “cherish the momentum and bring (China-Japan relations) back to a right track,” noting that 2018 marks the treaty’s 40th year.
The delegation from Tokyo is headed by Yohei Kono, who served as Lower House speaker from 2003 to 2009 and in many other key posts, including chief Cabinet secretary and foreign minister, during his long career as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Li also told the delegation that Beijing has been supporting the maintenance of the multinational trade system and that it will make efforts to promote free trade and investment, according to China’s state media.
China will welcome investment from other countries such as Japan, Li was quoted as saying by state media, at a time when trade tensions between the Asian power and the United States have been escalating.
The delegation told Li that it hopes the premier will visit Japan next month for a trilateral summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which is expected to take place in Tokyo on May 9, the media reported.
In recent years, Sino-Japanese ties have been challenged by a territorial row over the Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China, which escalated after Tokyo effectively put them under state control in September 2012.
But relations appear to have been improving in line with Chinese President Xi Jinping having bolstered his domestic power base since late last year through key political events at home.
An increasing number of policymakers and scholars from China and Japan believe that political stability in China would create a better environment to promote practical cooperation.
In January, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Yohei Kono’s son, met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Beijing and agreed to resume reciprocal visits by the two countries’ leaders.
After taking part in the trilateral summit, Li, who was reappointed to a second five-year term as China’s head of government last month, plans to visit Hokkaido to attend a conference where local political leaders are set to participate, diplomatic sources said.
Li may also deliver a speech at an event in Tokyo to celebrate the anniversary of the signing in 1978 of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two nations, the sources added.
The last Chinese premier to make an official visit to Japan was Wen Jiabao, Li’s predecessor, in May 2011.
Li’s possible visit is viewed as a step toward the goal of getting Xi to make a state visit in the future. Xi has yet to visit Japan since becoming China’s president in 2013.
Regarding the recent situation on the Korean Peninsula, Li told the Japanese delegation Monday that China hopes North Korea, which has developed its missile and nuclear programs in defiance of international sanctions, will have conversations with other countries.
In late March, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un held a surprise summit with Xi in Beijing, during Kim’s first foreign trip since ascending to power following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011.
Kim is also expected to hold talks with Moon on April 27. He is also expected to meet U.S. President Donald Trump — possibly by the end of May — for the first-ever summit between Washington and Pyongyang.
Relations between the two Koreas have been improving since the North decided to join the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics hosted by the South.