Japan lawmakers to meet China's 4th-ranked politician on Friday

A group of lawmakers belonging to Japan's ruling party led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet with Yu Zhengsheng, the fourth-highest ranking member of the Communist Party of China, on Friday as the two countries are trying to find ways to repair bilateral relations badly damaged over territorial and historical issues.

Former Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan mentioned the schedule Wednesday night during a meeting in Beijing between him and the group, headed by veteran Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Takeshi Noda.

"I have informed China's top leadership of your visit a long time ago and the leadership is also putting much importance on your visit," Tang told the six-member group that includes former Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga and former health minister Jiro Kawasaki at the outset of the meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.

The delegation's visit through Friday comes just a day after another group of senior Japanese lawmakers from ruling and opposition parties ended a three-day trip to Beijing.

On Monday, the group led by Masahiko Komura, vice president of the LDP, told Zhang Dejiang, who is ranked third in the Communist Party, that Abe is hoping to hold a formal meeting for the first time with President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of this year's summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November in Beijing.

While agreeing with Komura on the need to improve public sentiment in the two countries toward each other by promoting exchanges between lawmakers, Zhang denounced Japan for the deterioration in bilateral relations.

Zhang, who sits on the CPC's powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, not only criticized Japan's control of the Senkaku Islands but also Abe's visit in December to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo and the prime minister's views regarding wartime history, according to Komura.

A history issue apparently also overshadowed the meeting on Wednesday between the second group of Japanese lawmakers and Tang, with delegation chief Noda lodging a protest against China's establishment of a memorial hall of Korean independence activist Ahn Jung Geun in Harbin at the request of South Korea.

Noda told Tang that "we cannot tolerate" a memorial to Ahn who "assassinated former Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito. He requested that his concern be addressed, according to the Japanese lawmaker.

Tang was quoted as saying that Ahn "is a hero who sought Korean independence but I would like to inform relevant offices" about Noda's request. Ahn killed Ito, the first resident-general of Korea, in Harbin in 1909 when Korea was a Japanese protectorate.

The two Japanese delegations' visits were made at a time of almost no high-level political contacts between Tokyo and Beijing, a situation that has lasted for several years.

Abe and Xi have yet to hold official talks since they each came to office more than a year ago.

But China's decision to organize the two meetings in one week with the members of the country's highest decision-making body reflects possible changes in the leadership's approach toward Japan.

The meeting between Zhang and Komura was the first for an LDP heavyweight to meet with anyone from the standing committee since Abe's government was formed in December 2012.

As China will chair the APEC forum this year, it is becoming difficult for the two countries' ministers or leaders to completely avoid one-to-one contacts during upcoming meetings.

Starting to open the door of the communist party's top echelon to Japanese lawmakers, while at the same time continuing to criticize Abe's government at home and abroad, may be the leadership's two-track strategy to prompt Abe to soften his stance toward China, some experts say.

Abe, speaking at a press conference Wednesday in Brussels, called for a resumption of talks with China without conditions.

"My door for dialogue is always open. I hope China will take a similar attitude," Abe said.

The lawmakers now in Beijing have close ties with China.

Yu, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, met with a group of Japanese opposition lawmakers in August 2013.

But it will be the first time also for senior lawmakers of the Japanese ruling party to meet with him since the formation of Abe's government.