A group of Japanese lawmakers said yesterday that Vice-President Li Yuanchao had agreed that the two countries both need to make efforts to mend relations badly damaged over territorial and historical issues.
"At least three times Vice-President Li said we should overlook minor disagreements for the sake of common interests. That's important for Japan and China," Kiyohiko Toyama, a New Komeito lawmaker, who heads the cross-party group, said at a press conference in Beijing after their meeting. The eight-member group said it had asked Li to cooperate in setting up a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum to be held in November in the capital.
Li promised the group he would convey the request to the relevant departments and agencies in Beijing, Toyama said.
"Having said that, he said to remove political obstacles we both need to create an environment and an atmosphere necessary" for the meeting, according to Toyama, who described their talks as extremely forward-looking.
The talks with Li were scheduled without the group's request in advance, according to Toyama.
Beijing has repeatedly rebuffed Japanese government calls, both public and private, for a face-to-face meeting between Abe and Xi, citing a heated territorial dispute over a group of small islands in the East China Sea and what the Chinese government sees as Tokyo's unrepentant attitude towards its past militarism.
The meeting between the group and Li took place as the two countries are trying harder to find ways to thaw relations, at least slightly, before this year's Apec summit.
The foreign ministers of the two countries held one-on-one talks earlier this month in Myanmar during regional meetings, their first since Abe took office in December 2012.
In addition to China's claim on the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan calls the Senkaku Islands, a major sticking point has been Abe's visit last December to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours past Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals, along with millions of war dead.
In what was widely regarded as an attempt not to escalate tensions with China, Abe chose not to visit the shrine in Tokyo on Friday, the 69th anniversary of Japan's surrender to Allied forces in the second world war.
He did, however, send a ritual offering to the shrine.