Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Picture: REUTERS
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Picture: REUTERS

Chinese premier Li Keqiang told Japan’s biggest business delegation to Beijing that ties between Asia’s two biggest economies has been gradually improving.

Li, who was re-elected last month as the Communist Party of China’s second in command, addressed 250 delegates from the Japan-China Economic Association on Tuesday afternoon. He said business people in both countries should continue to strengthen communication and increase exchanges.

"I hope there are good results, the ones that you expect," Li said. "We should value this and consolidate the base for improving relations."

The meeting points to a warming in relations after they fell to their lowest point in 2012 since the nations established diplomatic ties in the early 1970s. Five years ago, anti-Japanese demonstrations in China hurt trade and investment, and fears of a military clash swirled as ships and planes from both countries tailed one another around islands claimed by both countries.

Japan now faces the risk of being left behind as an increasingly confident China seeks a greater say in the global economic and security order. China is under pressure from the US and its allies to apply more pressure on North Korea.

Earlier this month, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Danang, Vietnam, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the stable development of ties was in the interest of both countries, according to remarks published by the People’s Daily’s web portal. He said both sides should "work tirelessly to create conditions for the continued improvement of Sino-Japanese relations."

Abe and Xi smiled and nodded during the opening remarks of their meeting, which Abe described as frank, relaxed and friendly. But the Japanese leader told reporters later that his proposal that they conduct mutual visits next year — the 40th anniversary of a friendship treaty between the two countries — was met only with references to the importance of high-level exchanges.

The delegation arrived in Beijing on Monday, and will head to Guangzhou on Thursday before returning to Japan on Sunday. Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal president Shoji Muneoka led the group, which included representatives from, among other companies, ANA Holdings, Nissan Motor and Nomura Holdings.

Bloomberg

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