Vice-President Li Yuanchao made his diplomatic debut in his new role in a meeting with Japanese business leaders in Beijing yesterday.
Li was the highest-level official to attend the three-day Japan-China Economic Association meeting, which ends today.
The meeting came amid Japanese media reports that Japan may send Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso to China next month.
Speaking after the meeting with Li, some members of the Japanese business delegation said he had struck a softer tone over the two countries' territorial dispute in the East China Sea.
"What impressed me most is Li said he believed China and Japan could solve their problems peacefully," said Hiromasa Yonekura, senior councillor of the delegation. "Li said China hopes to solidify ties with Japanese political leaders and build a win-win relationship."
Li said the territorial dispute over islands known as the Diaoyus in China and Senkakus in Japan had always been a tough problem, but there would surely be a way to solve it, adding there were many examples in Europe where such disputes had been solved through dialogue rather than war, Yonekura said.
Li, a top ally of former president Hu Jintao , was appointed vice-president at the annual meeting of the National People's Congress last week. Since Li is the first vice-president in decades who is not a member of the Communist Party's powerful Politburo Standing Committee, many have speculated about whether he would have a say on China's foreign policies or simply play a ceremonial role.
The 16-member Japanese delegation, led by Toyota chairman Fujio Cho, was originally scheduled to visit China in September but that visit was postponed and the size of the delegation trimmed after Sino-Japanese ties plunged to their lowest point in years after Japan bought three of the disputed islands.
Li's meeting with the delegation appears to be ceremonial, given his vice-presidential role, said Zhou Yongsheng , a professor of Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University.
"The meeting might suggest that the new administration is keeping Sino-Japanese ties at arms length and that would keep the premier, normally in charge of substantive affairs, away from the meeting," Zhou said.
Japan's Kyodo news agency reported earlier that the delegation had asked to meet other senior leaders including Premier Li Keqiang during their three-day visit, but such a meeting was not on the agenda seen by the South China Morning Post.
Professor Liang Yunxiang , an international relations specialist at Peking University, said a meeting with the premier would carry broad political implications that Beijing would not welcome at the moment.
The delegation also met National Development and Reform Commission deputy director Zhu Zhixin , Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui and Deputy Industry and Information Technology Minister Su Bo yesterday.