August 4, 2014 2:00 am JST

China, Japan to negotiate for a November summit

KATSUJI NAKAZAWA, Nikkei staff writer

BEIJING -- Japan and China will begin talks aimed at realizing a summit meeting of their top leaders in November, with Chinese President Xi Jinping expressing a willingness to mend relations with Tokyo, sources said Sunday.

     The countries are looking to arrange a summit on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to be held here.

     Former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda visited China on July 27 on a stealth mission designed to broker a rapprochement. In a meeting with Xi, Fukuda relayed Abe's call for dialogue. For his part, Xi expressed concern over chilly Sino-Japanese relations and warmed up to the idea of a reconciliation.

     Xi also likely touched on conditions for a diplomatic breakthrough. Beijing had previously refused a summit unless Abe made concessions on the Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyu, as well as his visit to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.

     Relations deteriorated in 2012, when Japan nationalized the islets, and a formal summit has not been held since Abe took office.

     China is also at odds with Vietnam and the Philippines over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and ties with North Korea and Myanmar have been frayed. Beijing's attempt to build a new type of great-powers relationship with the U.S. has stalled as well.

     China will need to mend relations with its neighbors in proceeding to the larger diplomatic stage of the APEC meeting. Xi reportedly said recently that he wants to charge full-speed ahead with domestic reforms while ensuring a stable international environment.

     Fukuda serves as a key conduit to Beijing, chairing the China-hosted Boao Forum for Asia. He attended the forum held in Hainan Province in April and visited Beijing afterward. During these trips, he conferred with insiders close to Xi and arranged last month's meeting with the president.

     The talk marked a major change for Xi, who had avoided one-on-one meetings with key Japanese officials.

     Now that the president has shown that he wants to improve Sino-Japanese relations, the focus will turn to setting specific conditions through their diplomatic channels. But many of China's political and military leaders still take a hard-line stance against Japan. Seeking compromise will not be easy, and working-level talks could face obstacles.