Former Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda wants to meet President Xi Jinping at an economic forum this weekend, Japanese media reported, in what would be Xi's first meeting with a Japanese leader since he became president last month. Fukuda, 76, who was prime minister from 2007 to 2008, left Japan yesterday to go to Hainan province in southern China for the annual meeting of the Boao Forum for Asia and was trying to set up a meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the forum on Saturday or Sunday, Kyodo News Agency reported. It quoted unnamed sources as saying the Chinese side hoped Fukuda, who was regarded as friendly towards Beijing when he was in office, could emphasise the importance of Sino-Japanese relations. The sources added that Beijing was aiming to soften Japanese sentiment towards China by showing its willingness to engage in dialogue with Japan. Three years ago, Fukuda was elected to the board of directors of the forum, which draws both political and business leaders from around Asia. In an interview with Phoenix Television on Tuesday, Fukuda said he was worried about the Sino-Japanese status quo and called for an immediate summit between the new leaders on both sides. Tensions between the two nations flared last year when the Japanese government announced it was buying three disputed islands in the East China Sea, which are part of a group known as the Diaoyus in China and the Senkakus in Japan. China has since been sending vessels to patrol the disputed waters. However, signs of a thaw in relations have emerged recently with the resumption of non-governmental cultural exchanges. The rise of nationalism in both countries has already become a stumbling block, which both leaders have to deal with carefully Li Xiaolin, the president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the youngest daughter of former president Li Xiannian, attended the opening of a cultural event in Tokyo on Tuesday and met former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama. Kyodo also reported that the All-China Women's Federation had invited the wives of Fukuda and another former Japanese prime minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, to an event in Beijing today, along with the wife of former Japanese foreign minister Masahiko Komura. Separately, Komura, now vice-president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was considering a visit to China as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's special envoy, the report said. In January, Natsuo Yamaguchi, a member of Japan's coalition government, handed Xi, then China's vice-president, a letter from Abe calling for further communication between Tokyo and Beijing. Xi was quoted by Yamaguchi as saying that he would "seriously consider" a proposal for a high-level summit, but that conditions be created to make this possible. Liang Yunxiang, a specialist on Japanese affairs at Peking University, said the cultural exchanges were important but it would still be hard to get the relationship between the two countries back on track. "The rise of nationalism in both countries has already become a stumbling block, which both leaders have to deal with carefully," Liang said.