May 16, 2017 2:00 pm JST

Xi considers high-level leader visit to Japan

Abe seeks to rebuild China-Japan relationship

HIROYUKI AKIYAMA, Nikkei staff writer

BEIJING -- Chinese President Xi Jinping said Tuesday that he would consider a visit to Japan by a high-ranking member of the country's leadership, in response to Japan's stated intention to rebuilding bilateral relations, according to Japanese officials.

Xi met Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, in Beijing, who delivered a letter from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and requested a visit by a high-level Chinese official such as Xi himself.

During the meeting, Nikai was told that "[Beijing] wants the two countries to compromise and rule out interference to develop the China-Japan relationship always in the right direction."

Nikai told Xi of Abe's desire to develop the China-Japan relationship.

Tokyo hopes the visit can take place in 2017 or 2018. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic ties between the two countries, and 2018 will be the 40th year since they signed a treaty of peace and friendship.

Abe is paving the way toward restoring the relationship between Japan and China, amid continuing provocations by North Korea, including the latest missile launch on Sunday. Abe wants China, which has influence over North Korea, to be actively involved in resolving problems with the country.

The China-Japan relationship has worsened due to issues including the Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls Diaoyu, and China's land reclamation in the South China Sea.

But with North Korea continuing its nuclear and missile development, Tokyo has decided that mending fences with Beijing is a priority, given its influence over Pyongyang.

U.S. President Donald Trump is stepping up pressure on Xi's government for the same reason. The U.S. is also strengthening economic ties with China, including cooperation on the China-led Belt and Road initiative.

Nikai was sent to Beijing to participate in the Belt and Road forum, which took place on Sunday and Monday, as leader of the Japanese delegation.

The Japanese government has been cautiously watching the Chinese initiative, as it could allow China to increase its influence over neighboring countries.

Abe did not send any Cabinet ministers to the Beijing forum, but by sending Nikai, who has connections in China and manages the LDP, Abe apparently wanted to demonstrate the importance he places on rebuilding the China-Japan relationship.

Xi said Nikai's participation showed Japan had an active attitude toward the Belt and Road initiative.

Nikkei staff writer Kentaro Iwamoto in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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