Japanese business delegation back in Beijing after year hiatus
Visit by top-ranking Japanese executives aimed at mending ties frayed by East China Sea dispute
A delegation of influential Japanese business leaders was expected to meet Vice-Premier Wang Yang in Beijing today amid strained diplomatic relations over East China Sea territorial disputes.
The long-running annual business tour was put on hold last year after the Japanese government purchased the disputed Diaoyu, or Senkaku, islands, badly shaking Sino-Japanese ties.
The delegation, lead by Fujio Cho, the honorary chairman of Toyota Motors and chairman of the Japan-China Economic Association, has asked for meetings with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, during their week-long stay.
But the delegation was told that a scheduled session with Chinese government leaders would only be attended by Wang, who oversees commerce and trade and is one of the 25 members of the Communist Party's Politburo, Japan's Kyodo News reported.
Kyodo's report said Beijing felt it might be too early for Xi and Li to meet top Japanese businessmen given the sovereignty dispute over the islands continues to run hot.
However, Japan's broadcaster NHK said the delegation would still seek a meeting with Li.
Speaking to reporters shortly before the delegation departed, Cho said: "Even though squabbles have arisen between the governments, it is crucial to maintain periodic exchanges."
He added that he hoped the visit would help to build "an unwavering relationship" between the two countries.
Japanese businesses in China, including car dealerships, restaurants and supermarkets, were attacked by angry mobs in the immediate aftermath of the decision in September last year by the Japanese government to purchase the islands from a private Japanese family.
That degree of vitriol for Japanese brands has declined and there are reports that Japanese firms' sales are once again picking up in China, but the 180 officials of corporations and the Japan Business Federation believe that further improvements are possible.
Martin Schulz, a senior economist with the Fujitsu Research Institute, said the business community has always been much more proactive in pushing forward in its relationships with China .
"Until four years ago, successive conservative administrations of the Liberal Democratic Party were not really very interested in mending ties and then the Democratic Party of Japan, in their brief time in charge, were pretty much clueless about trade relations," he said.
The delegation includes Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, and Takashi Inai, the honorary chairman of Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metals.