Diaoyu Islands

Former Japanese leader Tomiichi Murayama arrives in Beijing

China-friendly Murayama is the third senior Japanese politician to visit Beijing in the past two weeks as both sides step up diplomacy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 4:12am

Former Japanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama kicked off a four-day visit to China yesterday in the latest diplomatic effort by both sides to ease bilateral tensions triggered by a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

Murayama, 88, became the third senior Japanese political figure to visit China in two weeks, with both sides stepping up diplomatic efforts amid fears that armed clashes could erupt over control of the Diaoyu Islands, known as Senkakus in Japan.

The head of New Komeito, part of Japan's governing coalition, Natsuo Yamaguchi, visited Beijing last week and suggested a high-level summit during a meeting with Communist Party chief Xi Jinping . Former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama also visited, paying respects to victims of the Nanking Massacre.

Murayama met the chairman of the China-Japan Friendship Association, former state councillor Tang Jiaxuan , after arriving Beijing, and would meet other government officials.

Nakatani Gen, a member of Murayama's delegation who served as the head of the Japan Defence Agency, said they would discuss the territorial dispute.

Like Yamaguchi and Hatoyama, Murayama is considered friendly to China.

Mainland analysts said they expected Beijing would hold Murayama in high regard because he had apologised for Japanese atrocities during the second world war. As Japan's prime minister, he delivered a speech in 1995 admitting that Japan had caused tremendous damage to the people of many countries.

China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations' Professor Liu Junhong said Murayama's trip was less significant than Yamaguchi's, because he had been acting as an envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "However, as a former Japanese prime minister who made the apology, Murayama will be well-received by the Chinese," Liu said.

Sino-Japanese ties have been tense since September, when the Japanese government announced it was buying three of the uninhabited islands.

Professor Zhou Yongsheng , from China Foreign Affairs University, said the visits by the three China-friendly Japanese politicians showed that both sides were aware that they could not afford to see the confrontation escalate.

But analysts said there were still uncertainties. Abe said after Yamaguchi's trip that he hoped to have dialogue with Chinese leaders, but his administration has also rejected Yamaguchi's suggestion that the territorial dispute be set aside.

In his first policy speech to the Japanese parliament yesterday, Abe said Japan was determined to protect its territory.

Beijing also expressed concerns yesterday about Tokyo's plan to boost its military.

"We hope that Japan can stick to a path of peaceful development and respects the concerns of countries in the region," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.