Vice-President Xi Jinping expressed hopes for deeper ties with Japan before kicking off a visit to the country today that includes a specially arranged meeting with the Japanese emperor.
"We would like to further develop our friendly, neighborly cooperative ties," Xi told reporters during a joint interview with international media at the Great Hall of the People on Saturday.
The vice-president will pay an official visit to Japan, the Republic of Korea, Cambodia and Myanmar beginning today until next Tuesday.
This is Xi's first interview with foreign media since taking his current position in March 2008, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
During the interview, Xi also welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's proposal for an East Asian community bound by deeper trade and economic links.
"It is a systematic project to construct such a community, which should be based on reality while taking a long-term view," Xi said in a press release. "The most important thing to do at present is to strengthen dialogue and negotiation between countries so as to form a consensus."
Though Xi on Saturday did not comment on a planned meeting with Japanese Emperor Akihito, which stirred controversy in the country, Kyodo news agency said he thanked the governments involved in the visits for their considerate arrangements.
Japan has strictly followed a rule for almost one decade that any meeting with the emperor by a visiting foreign dignitary should be scheduled at least a month in advance.
But the head of the Imperial Household Agency said on the weekend that the request from China for such a meeting came on Nov 26. At first, the agency declined the request but later was persuaded by the government to accept.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said on Friday the government is asking the emperor to break the rule for Xi because "bilateral ties between Japan and China are of high importance".
A senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official said on Saturday that China appreciates the Imperial audience.
Zhou Yongsheng, an expert on Japanese studies with China Foreign Affairs University, said the case again showed that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) holds a totally different strategic view toward Beijing compared with the former ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which controlled Japan for most of the past 54 years.
"The LDP is very realistic when dealing with Chinese affairs, while the DPJ is somewhat idealist. The warm attitude Tokyo is holding toward Bejing now cannot be compared with even the most China-friendly LDP administrations. It's a major shift," Zhou said.
Hatoyama has clearly voiced his expectations on closer ties with China but has yet to come to concrete talks with Chinese leaders on this issue, he said.
"China has to catch the opportunity and show its sincerity. In these terms, Xi's visit can be a good start."
Xi is the first top Chinese leader to visit Japan since the DPJ took power in the fall.
He is expected to stay there for three days. Online newspaper Japan Today said the vice-president will meet Hatoyama, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, leaders of ruling and opposition parties as well as business leaders.
He is also scheduled to visit Fukuoka prefecture in southwestern Japan.