May 9, 2014 7:39 pm JST

China's senior leader sets conditions for mending ties with Japan

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- A senior Chinese politician said Friday it would not be too difficult to mend bilateral relations with Japan if Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stopped visiting the war-related Yasukuni Shrine and his government admitted there is a dispute over which country controls a cluster of islands in the East China Sea.

     Yu Zhengsheng, the fourth-highest ranking member of the Communist Party of China, said the two are major conditions for a resumption of dialogue with Abe's government, during a meeting with a group of Japanese ruling party lawmakers in Beijing, one of the parliamentarians said.

     As the two countries are struggling to mend bilateral relations badly frayed over territorial and historical issues, Yu met with the group comprised of lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party led by Abe.

     "Currently, there are some difficulties diplomatically. But I believe friendly exchanges like this, and exchanges between the private-sector and companies should be continued," Yu said at the outset of the meeting at Great Hall of the People.

     He added the two countries should be "friendly neighbors" and he believes they can overcome the current difficult situation by "efforts of both sides."

     The meeting comes at a time when the Chinese leadership is showing a slight shift in its approach toward Tokyo in the absence of almost no high-level government-to-government dialogue between the two countries.

     While continuing to criticize Japan's control of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and Abe's views regarding wartime history, China has recently become more positive about promoting exchanges between parliamentarians, local government officials and business organizations.

     The delegation's visit to Beijing started Wednesday, just a day after another group of Japanese lawmakers from ruling and opposition parties left the Chinese capital.

     On Monday, the group led by Masahiko Komura, vice president of the LDP, held talks with Zhang Dejiang, ranked third in the CPC's powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.

     During the meeting that lasted about an hour, Komura told Zhang that Abe is hoping to hold an official meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping when Xi hosts a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November in Beijing.

     As Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo in December further irked China, political relations between the two countries have remained at their lowest ebb.

     Abe and Xi have yet to hold official talks since they each came to office more than a year ago.

     Still, China's decision to arrange the two meetings in a week with the members of the CPC's top echelon reflects a slight shift in the leadership's dealing with Japan.