TOKYO – Japan and China plan to resume an exchange program between young Japanese bureaucrats and would-be top Chinese government officials in 2018 after a more than five-year hiatus, bilateral sources said Sunday.
The plan to restart the program involving Japanese bureaucrats from foreign, economy and agricultural ministries and students from China’s elite Central Party School comes as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shown a desire to improve ties with China, with an eye on a future visit by President Xi Jinping to Japan, the sources said.
But the outlook for Xi’s visit is unclear as tensions remain high over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, an island group administered by Japan but claimed by China which calls them Diaoyu.
A Chinese submarine and a frigate were recently spotted near Japanese territorial waters in the area.
The exchange program was suspended after the Japanese government put the uninhabited islets under state control in September 2012, triggering a fierce response from China which has led to it repeatedly sending government vessels into Japanese waters.
But in an effort to mend ties, Japan asked for China’s cooperation in resuming the program by fall last year, one of the sources said. The Chinese side responded positively, telling Toshihiro Nikai, a senior member of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, last December that it is again open to the exchanges, the source said.
“Through the exchanges, we hope the next-generation of elites who will lead the China of tomorrow will have a sense of closeness to Japan,” a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.
The exchange program started in 2000, paving the way for dozens of Japanese bureaucrats and Chinese students to visit each other nearly every year.
In resuming the program, Japan hopes to have the Chinese up-and-comers visit various ministries, agencies and local governments to learn about Japan’s system of administration.
The Central Party School, headed by leading figures such as China’s former President Hu Jintao and President Xi in the past and considered an important step up the Chinese Communist Party ladder, is attended by mid-ranking central and local party officials.