[TOKYO] Japan on Friday said it wished to improve its soured ties with Beijing, a day after a senior ruling lawmaker invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Tokyo next year.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, the head of Komeito, a junior partner in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's coalition, met with Mr Xi in Beijing Thursday and handed over a letter from the Japanese leader.
"I said (to Xi) we very much hope that the president would come to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo," Mr Yamaguchi said late Thursday after seeing the Chinese leader as a member of a group of senior Asian political figures.
"The president gently smiled and nodded. Our feeling, our words, I think, have been received," he said.
Mr Yamaguchi did not elaborate on what the letter said.
In Tokyo on Friday, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga avoided directly commenting whether Mr Yamaguchi's comments reflected Tokyo's official position.
But he said Japan hoped to improve its ties with Beijing.
"Nothing has been decided about the Japan-China summit. But Japan and China are in agreement that the bilateral relations should be improved under the direction of a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests," Mr Suga said.
"We wish to build stable bilateral relations by continuing dialogues at various levels. In this respect, (Yamaguchi's) visit to China was extremely significant," he added.
Mr Xi has not visited Japan since coming to power more than two years ago.
Bitter memories of Japan's violent rule in China before and during World War II continue to afflict their relations, with China asserting that Tokyo has not sufficiently atoned for its past.
The ties plunged in 2012 following Tokyo's nationalisation of disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Meanwhile, China's Communist party tends to stoke Chinese nationalism as part of its claim to legitimacy.
Mr Abe's past visits to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine, seen by China as a symbol of Japan's war-time militarism, have also damaged relations between the two countries.
But over the last year the two nations have been making gradual and visible efforts to improve their relations.
Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi, the highest-ranking Chinese diplomat to make an official trip to Tokyo for several years, met with Mr Abe on Wednesday in Tokyo.
Mr Abe told Mr Yang that he hoped to meet with Chinese leaders at upcoming international meetings, such as the G-20.