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International relations

Xi Jinping set to make first state visit to Japan in April

Mention of specific month comes with Abe security chief in Beijing

Kindergarteners wave national flags as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reviews the guard of honour with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a welcoming ceremony in Tokyo in May 2018.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- Senior Chinese and Japanese officials discussed Friday a visit to Japan by China's President Xi Jinping in April, marking the first mention of a specific month for the high-profile trip.

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan met with Shigeru Kitamura, Japan's new national security chief, in Beijing's Zhongnanhai government district.

"In principle, President Xi Jinping will make a state visit to Japan next spring," said Wang. "If successfully realized, it will have great impact and significance for China-Japan relations."

Kitamura said: "We want to have full bilateral discussions on issues around an April visit to Japan by President Xi"

Xi's trip would reciprocate a visit to China planned by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for later this month. On that occasion, Xi will hold talks with Abe, Wang confirmed.

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, right, meets with Shigeru Kitamura, Japan's national security chief, in Beijing on Dec. 6.   © Kyodo

Abe is expected to meet with Xi in Beijing on Dec. 23, according to a diplomatic source. Tentative plans also call for Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to hold a trilateral summit the following day in the city of Chengdu, the source said.

This is the first visit to China by Kitamura since he became national security chief in September. "President Xi went out of his way to come and instruct me to meet with Mr. Kitamura by all means," said Wang.

Wang, considered to be Xi's right-hand man, attended Japanese Emperor Naruhito's enthronement in October. "Through the enthronement ceremony, I felt the great international influence Japan possesses," Wang told Kitamura on Friday.

Kitamura later visited the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing to meet with Yang Jiechi, a member of the Politburo and China's top diplomat.

"The momentum for friendship between Japan and China is becoming extremely powerful," said Kitamura.

The China visit by Kitamura "has gained attention since he is one of Abe's close aides and there is a potential he will develop deep bilateral connections," said a Chinese diplomatic source. The fact that Kitamura is a former senior official for Japan's National Police Agency also appears to have been noticed in Beijing.

Shotaro Yachi, Kitamura's long-serving predecessor as Abe's national security chief, repaired bilateral relations with China following a 2012 flare-up in tensions over the Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu.

The two sides reached a breakthrough in 2014 by agreeing to a set of shared understandings, including the gradual resumption of political dialogue.

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