The head of Japan's most influential business lobby on Wednesday met with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao as the two countries are trying to at least boost economic exchanges amid continuing political tensions.
"Although China and Japan are currently fighting about historical issues" and over which country controls a group of islands in the East China Sea, "we have to advance our business activities," Li told Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, also known as Keidanren, at the outset of the meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
The meeting comes as the two countries are trading accusations over an unusually close encounter of their defense aircraft on the weekend over the East China Sea.
Yonekura has told reporters that given the interdependence of Asia's two biggest economies, he would convey to Li the importance of not stopping "private-sector diplomacy" to lay the groundwork for the restart of frequent contacts at government levels.
While continuing to criticize Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, China has started accepting nongovernmental but high-level delegations from Tokyo, sending clearer signals in recent weeks of its interest in promoting exchanges between parliamentarians, business leaders and local government officials.
Starting with the Tokyo governor's visit to Beijing in late April, China has arranged a flurry of meetings between its senior officials and Japanese delegations.
Among them, a group of Japanese lawmakers led by the vice president of Abe's ruling party held talks with Zhang Dejiang, the third-highest ranking member of the Communist Party of China, on May 5.
During the meeting, the vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party, Masahiko Komura, told Zhang that Abe is hoping to meet one-to-one on the sidelines of this year's summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November in Beijing.
Four days later, Yu Zhengsheng, ranked fourth in the CPC's powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, then told a different group of Japanese lawmakers that two major conditions need to be met before the Chinese leadership can restart political dialogue with Abe's government.
They are, specifically, a promise by Abe not to again visit the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo and an admission by his government of the existence of a dispute over the Japan-controlled uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
Yonekura heard similar views from former Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan during their discussions Tuesday night in Beijing, according to an official of the business lobby.
Toray Industries Inc. Chairman Sadayuki Sakakibara, who will succeed Yonekura as Keidanren chief next Tuesday, attended the meeting with Tang, chief of the China-Japan Friendship Association.
But Sakakibara did not participate in Yonekura's meeting with Li as it was organized on short notice and he had to leave Beijing to follow a prearranged schedule, according to the official.