Former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama paid respects to victims of the Nanking Massacre yesterday, as efforts to find a way out of the tense row over islands in the East China Sea appeared to be gaining momentum.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Japan's New Komeito - a party that is a key ally of the Liberal Democratic Party and a member of Japan's coalition government - said yesterday he would also visit China next week in an effort to ease bilateral tensions.
In a meeting with Hatoyama in Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference chairman Jia Qinglin, who stepped down from the Communist Party's supreme Politburo Standing Committee in November, told Hatoyama the two countries should "properly handle the differences of their stances over the Diaoyu Islands and other issues through dialogue and consultation", Xinhua reported.
Tokyo had earlier refused to acknowledge Beijing's call for negotiations to solve the territorial dispute.
Hatoyama became the third former Japanese prime minister to visit the memorial hall in Nanjing . Known as a friend of China, he offered a silent prayer at the site, where victims of the 1937 massacre were believed to be buried, Kyodo reported. Beijing says 300,000 people died in the six-week massacre by Japanese troops. Tokyo points to various estimates, ranging from 20,000 to 200,000.
Kyodo also reported that Yamaguchi said he would consult Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on whether he wished him to deliver a letter or message to China.
Professor Niu Zhongjun, from China Foreign Affairs University, said that while Beijing did not wish to see Sino-Japanese relations remaining tense, he thought there was still a long way to go before fences would be mended.
"The foreign ministers have not met each other yet, not to mention more senior levels of contact," Niu said.
Lian Degui , an expert in foreign relations at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said a breakthrough in relations might not happen before Japan's upper house election in July.
Separately, Kurt Campbell, America's assistant secretary of state, while on a visit to Tokyo yesterday, called for diplomatic efforts to solve territorial disputes between China and Japan.
He added Washington was "concerned by some of the actions around maritime issues" that had been taken.