China-Japan relations

Xi Jinping emissary Li Xiaolin ‘planning Japan visit to improve relations’

Xi's childhood friend has history of secret meetings with Japanese officials in 2012

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 11:25am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 4:55pm

A senior Chinese official known as close to President Xi Jinping is considering visiting Japan next month, sources knowledgeable about the matter said.

If the visit by Li Xiaolin, the youngest daughter of former president Li Xiannian, is realised, the likelihood of her holding talks with senior Japanese politicians is high as the two countries are trying to improve relations at least slightly before this year's summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to be held in November in Beijing.

Li, head of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, was Xi's "emissary" and met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo a day before he took office on December 26, 2012, people familiar with the situation said earlier.

Li, who has been a friend of Xi since they were children, also secretly met with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, as well as Masahiko Komura, vice-chief of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, when she visited Tokyo in spring last year, according to the sources.

The official reason for Li's planned trip is to participate in an event aimed at promoting people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, the sources said.

In addition to the event in Osaka on September 22-23, she is considering attending a ballet with the theme of friendship between Japan and China on October 7 in Tokyo, the sources said.

Since Abe took office, there have been no official talks between him and Xi, mainly due to tension over the Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyus by China) in the East China Sea and China's anger over Abe's visit in December to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which is seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Senior Chinese officials have so far said there would be no meeting between the two leaders unless Tokyo acknowledged the territorial dispute over the islands, which are administered by Japan, and Abe promises not to visit Yasukuni again.

Still, since around this spring, China has begun accepting various Japanese delegations and sending clearer signals that while the cause of soured ties boils down to Abe, Beijing is willing to promote exchanges between the two countries.

Most recently, Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao told a cross-party group of Japanese lawmakers in Beijing in mid-August that the two countries should now "overlook minor disagreements for the sake of common interests" and both sides need to make efforts to mend bilateral relations.

Earlier this month, for the first time since Abe's government was formed in 2012, the foreign ministers of the two countries also held one-on-one talks.

In late July, former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda met secretly with Xi in Beijing and discussed the possibility of a meeting between the Chinese president and Abe on the sidelines of the APEC summit, according to sources familiar with the situation.