BEIJING — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Tuesday he feels that his country’s ties with Japan are “gradually improving” and that Asia’s two largest economies should further deepen their cooperation.
Li made the remarks during a meeting with a group of Japanese business leaders in Beijing, amid increasing signs that the two countries are on course to repair their relations at a faster space following recent high-level political contacts.
“China-Japan relations have been gradually improving and there is a positive momentum,” Li told the delegation at the Great Hall of the People. “We should value this and solidify the base for improving relations.”
Li said the business communities of the two countries have a large role to play under the current circumstances by strengthening cooperation and exchanges.
The delegation of the Japan-China Economic Association, led by Shoji Muneoka, chairman of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., consists of about 250 people, the largest since the group started sending a mission almost annually to Beijing in 1975.
In response to Li’s comments, Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, requested that “stable political and diplomatic relations” be secured thorough close and frequent communication between Tokyo and Beijing.
The meeting took place after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed earlier this month in Vietnam to make a “new start” in bilateral ties, which have often been strained by territorial and historical issues.
Just two days after the Nov. 11 meeting, Abe and Li held talks on the sidelines of a regional summit in the Philippines and also agreed to make further efforts at repairing the relationship.
For the third straight year, the business federation, also known as Keidanren, and the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry joined the delegation.
“The relations have moved back to what they supposed to be” thanks to the two recent talks, Akio Mimura, head of the chamber of commerce, told reporters after the meeting, which lasted about one hour.
The group, comprising executives from major Japanese companies, discussed ways to promote trade in the Asia-Pacific region with Li and asked him to create a better business environment in China, noting such as that more efforts are necessary to provide adequate intellectual property protection, according to an official traveling with them.
Li and the Japanese business leaders agreed that it is important to aim for an early conclusion of an FTA among China, Japan and South Korea, as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade accord, currently under talks among the three countries, Australia, India, New Zealand and the 10 member-Association of Southeast Asian Nations, according to the official.
The delegation also touched on the Japanese private sector’s interest in participating in China’s ambitious project of expanding infrastructure networks in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa under the so-called One Belt, One Road initiative, the official said.
Neither side referred to thorny political issues, he said.
Li last met with those Japanese business leaders in 2015, which marked the first time since 2009 that a Chinese president or premier had responded to a request for talks from them.
Bilateral relations turned frosty around 2010 over a group of Japanese-controlled, China-claimed islands, but have gradually thawed since two years ago.
In 2016, the business group met with Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli as Li was on an overseas trip.