Former state councillor Tang Jiaxuan called on Tokyo and Beijing to take steps to improve their tense ties as he met Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe.
Tang greeted Masuzoe "on behalf of the Chinese government" when Masuzoe arrived in Beijing on Thursday for a three-day visit, a gesture seen as a bid to show Beijing's willingness to ease tensions triggered by territorial disputes in the East China Sea.
He said he hoped Masuzoe's trip would "help resume exchanges between Tokyo and Beijing", according to Kyoto News.
Masuzoe, who is visiting at the invitation of Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun , told Tang he would report the outcome of his trip to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Masuzoe's trip is the latest local or lower-level visit between the two nations in recent weeks after high-level exchanges were put on hold following Abe's last visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine that honours Japanese war criminals. The visit prompted Beijing to name Abe an "unwelcome" person.
The Tokyo governor yesterday visited the National Stadium, also known as the "Bird's Nest", which hosted the 2008 Olympics. Tokyo is preparing to host the 2020 Olympics.
There the governor met Wang and Li Xiaolin, president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.
Zhou Yongsheng, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University, said Tang's welcome indicated that Beijing regarded the visit as important to restoring warmer ties.
"Tang is retired, and it implies that China is actually giving a higher-level reception when he says he is representing the government," Zhou said.
"Both sides are aware that something detrimental may happen if their relationship continues to remain tense."
Ties have plummeted over territorial disputes over the Diaoyu Islands, called the Senkakus by Japan, with both nations boosting their military presence in the East China Sea.
In signs that both nations are exploring ways to lower simmering tensions, Hu Deping , son of late Communist Party general secretary Hu Yaobang , met Abe to exchange views on the relationship during a week-long visit to Japan earlier this month.
Vice-Premier Wang Yang also received a Japanese delegation led by retired politician Yohei Kono on April 15. Wang told the delegation that China was serious about improving ties with Japan and hoped the Japanese business sector could help.
Professor Lian Degui, of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said Beijing was aiming to expand local-level ties.