Former Japanese premier Yasuo Fukuda will visit China for a regional forum this weekend, an aide said Wednesday, with speculation that he will meet China's new president on the sidelines.
Fukuda, a 76-year-old veteran who was prime minister for a year from September 2007, left Japan on Wednesday headed for the southern Chinese island of Hainan for an annual meeting of the Boao Forum for Asia, the aide said.
His visit comes as ties between Japan and China remain strained due to the two countries' territorial claims to a group of islands in the East China Sea, called Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China.
Kyodo News reported Fukuda was arranging a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the forum in what would be the first meeting between Xi and any Japanese leader, former or current, since he took office in March.
The meeting is being arranged for either Saturday or Sunday, the news agency quoted unnamed sources as saying, adding the Chinese side had a benign view of Fukuda, who stressed the importance of Chinese-Japanese ties during his tenure.
By showing a willingness to engage in dialogue with Japan, the Chinese side is aiming to soften Japanese sentiment toward China, which has worsened as Chinese vessels ply the waters around the disputed islands, it said.
Fukuda is expected to convey to the new leader that both Tokyo and Beijing need to work hard to repair ties and restore trust between the two neighbours, it quoted the sources as saying.
Fukuda is chairman of the forum, seen as an Asian version of the World Economic Forum, which draws global leaders to its annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.
The Boao conference this year is set to start Friday and last until Monday.
Fukuda is no longer a lawmaker but belonged to the same faction as current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
A spokesman for the government said it was aware that Fukuda was chair of the forum and knew that on previous occasions he had met with foreign political leaders but did not know of any specific arrangements for this weekend.