Senior officials from China and Japan met early this month in Beijing to explore the possibility of a summit on the margins of an economic conference later this year, a news report said Thursday.
The Japanese delegates from the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian affairs bureau held talks with officials including Xiong Bo, a deputy director-general for Asian Affairs at Beijing’s Foreign Ministry, Kyodo News reported. The Tokyo diplomats delivered Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hopes for a formal meeting with President Xi Jinping when they take part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the Chinese capital in November.
The visit reflects the Abe government’s efforts to mend bilateral relations severely damaged by territorial and historical rows.
The hawkish premier has consistently been seeking talks with Xi and President Park Geun-hye since he took office in late 2012.
But the two leaders remain callous as Abe speeds up his revisionist push including a review of Tokyo’s 1993 apology for wartime sex slavery and constitutional reinterpretation to expand the role of the Self Defense Forces. His trip to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine last year dealt another blow to the country’s relations with its neighbors.
In contrast, Xi and Park have held four rounds of summits in Seoul, Beijing and elsewhere since their inaugurations early last year.
Concerns persist about the possibility of an armed conflict occuring over Tokyo-controlled uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Beijing has also been ramping up pressure on Tokyo to admit to and repent for its atrocities during World War II, including its mobilization of Chinese women to frontline brothels.
“Although many influential Japanese politicians recently came to China and suggested that the prime minister would no longer visit the shrine, I would like to know his real intentions,” a Japanese official quoted Xiong as saying during the meeting.
Despite the frosty mood, Beijing and Tokyo were seen working to mend fences by expanding private, informal or behind-the-scenes exchanges.
Seoul is keeping close tabs as a summit or other breakthrough in their ties would likely complicate its diplomatic position and shrink its policy options.
Last month, Tang Jia Xuan, a former Chinese State Councilor in charge of foreign affairs, traveled to Tokyo as the chairman of the China-Japan Friendship Association and called for efforts to resolve the territorial and historical brawls to bring the relationship back on track.
Akihiro Ota, Japan’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and a former leader of New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, also visited Beijing later that month and agreed with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong to step up exchanges.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)