TOKYO -- Talks are underway for Chinese President Xi Jinping to make a state visit to Japan next spring, Beijing's new ambassador to the country told reporters Friday.
China "has received a request from the Japanese government for President Xi to visit Japan as a state guest at an appropriate time," said Kong Xuanyou in fluent Japanese at the Japan National Press Club.
"We have taken it seriously and are now in negotiations," he said. "We think it is possible."
As for the timing, "we hope for it to take place at a good time -- when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom," Kong said. In Tokyo, that typically happens from late March to early April.
This would mark the first state visit to Japan by a Chinese leader in 12 years. Tokyo and Beijing had long held off on top-level meetings amid tensions over Okinawa Prefecture's Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands. With ties now improving, the Japanese government seeks to continue reciprocal visits by the leaders of the two countries to keep the relationship on an even keel.
Top-level meetings resumed with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Japan in May 2018, the first by a sitting premier in seven years. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled to China that October, and Xi will travel to Osaka for the Group of 20 summit next week.
After the G-20 event, attention will turn to scheduling the annual Japan-China-South Korea summit, which Beijing is expected to host as early as this year.
"It would be natural for Xi to return to Japan after Prime Minister Abe goes to China" for the trilateral meeting, a Japanese Foreign Ministry source said.
State visits entail the highest level of diplomatic formality. In Japan, they typically include a formal dinner and a meeting with the emperor. Tokyo has previously hosted Xi's two immediate predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, as state guests in 1998 and 2008, respectively.