China's top political adviser highlighted the role of public diplomacy, rather than relying solely on official channels, during a meeting on Thursday with leaders of Japanese groups committed to developing China-Japan ties.
The meeting took place as Beijing continued to target Tokyo's hardline language and approach to the Diaoyu Islands.
Authorities informed Japan on Sunday that Beijing would delay a long-planned reception scheduled for Thursday to mark the 40th anniversary of normalized ties. Instead, top political adviser Jia Qinglin met heads of major Japan-China friendship groups and progressive Japanese politicians who contributed to, and want to improve, ties.
Kyodo News Agency said the meeting was seen as "a positive gesture to improve sharply deteriorating ties".
Feng Zhaokui, a Japanese studies researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that even in this bleak situation, goodwill can make a difference.
"In the face of the damage wrought by radical Japanese right-wing politicians, we can only resort to the power of friendship to eliminate difficulties, and that serves the interests of both countries."
This year should have been a great opportunity to deepen links, said Jia, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. However, Japan's "nationalization" of part of the islands, regardless of China's repeated representations, have "pushed China-Japan ties to the grim situation", he said.
"Japan should fully recognize the seriousness of the situation, face up to the problems over the islands and correct their errors as soon as possible to avoid causing greater damage to relations," Jia said.
Progress in ties over the past four decades have brought enormous benefits to the two countries and their people, Jia said. "The hard-won situation should be cherished. Only by learning from history can we face the future.''
Jia invited Japanese people "from all walks of life" to work with China to push ties back on a path of healthy development.
Finding common ground is important, Takeshi Noda, visiting chairman of the Japan-China Society, told Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV in Tokyo before his trip to Beijing.
"It is the hardest time for ties and both countries need to follow the principle of shelving differences and seek common ground."
Japan's government announced on Sept 10 a final decision to "purchase" some of the islands in the East China Sea.
Protests erupted across China and the diplomatic deadlock has overshadowed trade ties between the world's second and third-largest economies.
Xu Dunxin, former vice-foreign minister and Chinese ambassador to Japan, welcomed the gesture by Tokyo of sending senior diplomats to Beijing for talks earlier this week but "if they want to talk, sincerity is expected''.
"They should understand facts and respect history when discussing the islands," Xu told China Central Television.
Meanwhile, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda frequently referred to "the rule of international law" for resolving territorial disputes.
Although Noda did not name China directly, Kyodo said Noda's speech was "likely to irritate China". Noda also told reporters at the General Assembly that the islands "are an integral part" of Japan's territory in light of history and international law.
Japanese Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura on Thursday rejected the need to take the islands issue to the international court.
Tokyo will boost its campaign to seek support from the international community, said Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba.
"China is disappointed and sternly opposes the Japanese leader's obstinacy regarding his wrong position on the issue," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a written statement on Thursday.
Japan stole the islands at the end of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). Key declarations following World War II, including the Cairo Declaration, clearly returned the islands to China. "How can it make sense for a defeated country to illegally occupy the territory of a victorious nation?" Qin said.
Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies, blasted Noda's remarks as "hypocritical and deceptive" because Japan has violated international law when it used force to occupy China's territory. "And Japan has deliberately tried to hoodwink the international community,'' Qu said.
Yang Bojiang, a professor of Japanese studies at the University of International Relations in Beijing, said Japan is using the global stage to get support.
Meanwhile, Noda was also greeted by around 1,000 Chinese nationals demonstrating in front of UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday local time.