Japanese Vice-Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki arrived in Beijing yesterday for discussions with senior Chinese officials about a high-level summit between top leaders of the two nations.
Saiki's two day-trip is the latest effort by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to improve Sino-Japanese relations that have been soured by a bitter territorial row over the Diaoyu Islands, known as Senkakus in Japan, in the East China Sea.
Saiki and his Chinese counterpart Zhang Yesui are expected to discuss the prospects of a summit between Abe and President Xi Jinping .
Abe told reporters yesterday that Japan intended "to promote unconditional, frank dialogue between the foreign ministers and leaders of the two nations. Kyodo said Abe wants to tell the Chinese side that he hoped to meet Xi at the sidelines of G20 summit in Russia in September.
On Sunday, Abe's adviser Isao Iijima said he learned from meeting with people close to the Chinese leadership that Abe could soon hold a summit with Xi, but Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement yesterday that Iijima had not conducted any official activity nor contacted any Chinese officials, even though he had applied for a Chinese visa.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also said yesterday that no schedule concerning the summit had been fixed.
Abe has extended goodwill gestures to Beijing following Japan's upper house election on July 21, which his ruling bloc won in a decisive victory.
But the Abe also said Japan would not set any pre-conditions for the dialogue, a remark observers said was likely to be rejected by Beijing, which has said high-level talks would be held only when Japan acknowledged that sovereignty was disputed.
In an inspection of two small islets close to the Diaoyus on July 17, Abe warned of a heightened security risk because of "provocations" from Beijing.
Japan's Defence Ministry last week issued a policy report repeating concerns about China's military build-up. The ministry also said it would consider buying unmanned surveillance drones and beef up ability to transport troops to far-flung isles that stretch all the way to the northwest of Taiwan.
Da Zhigang , a Japanese affairs expert at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said Abe has extended his olive branch to Beijing under pressure from the United States.
"The US does not want chaos in East Asia," Da said. "By saying he wants a dialogue with Xi, Abe is passing the buck to China to improve Sino-Japanese ties and so he can say he has already showed sincerity."
Da also said Abe needed to improve relations South Korea, which was also involved in territorial disputes with Tokyo over the Dokdo islands, or Takeshima, to boost Japan's ailing economy.
Lian Degui , deputy director of Japanese studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said Saiki and Zhang would seek "middle-ground" on whether the islands' territorial rights were in dispute.