With relations still tense between China and Japan and a summit between their top leaders unlikely, businessmen and academics from both sides are stepping in to mend ties.
A 178-member Japanese business delegation visited Beijing yesterday, the largest business group to visit China since bilateral ties soured due to territorial disputes over the Diaoyu/Senkaku isles in September last year. The visit was organised by the Japan-China Economic Association, which has visited China yearly since 1975 but shelved their trip last year due to the disputes.
Delegation members led by Toyota Motor honorary chairman Fujio Cho met Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang on Tuesday. But their wish to meet top Chinese leaders Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang is unlikely to be realised, Japanese media reported.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Tuesday that the Japanese delegation would meet unspecified national leaders. "We will exchange views on Sino-Japanese ties, especially on things like economic and trade ties," he said.
The visit comes after a low-key symposium was organised in Beijing last month by the China-Japan Friendship Association headed by former Chinese state councillor Tang Jiaxuan, to mark the 35th anniversary of a bilateral friendship treaty.
Japanese media reported that the celebration, held two months after the actual anniversary on Aug 12, was initiated by the Chinese and a sign that China had softened its attitude towards Japan in business and trade areas.
The Japanese business group visit also follows a visit in late September to Japan by 10 Chinese corporate captains led by Mr Chang Zhenming, chair of the state-owned Citic Group.
In recent months, China's local governments have also started visiting Japan to attract investments. Observers say the visits show that both sides hope to put a stop to deteriorating relations, at least when it comes to business.
"It used to be 'politics cold, economics warm' sometimes (with regard to ties) but what's changing now is that both fronts are cold, as the economic interdependence that underpins bilateral relations comes under threat," said commentator Wang Shaozhe in the Liberation Daily, mouthpiece of the People's Liberation Army.