China has told Japan that it is considering holding a face-to-face ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary in September of the normalization of relations between the two nations, a source familiar with bilateral ties said Tuesday.
The move indicated China, which has been at odds with the United States over security and human rights issues, is eager to stabilize relations with Japan, but the source told Kyodo News that whether an in-person event can be held will hinge on the situation with the novel coronavirus.
It is the first time China's plan for the 50th anniversary has been revealed, as the country's ties with Japan, a close U.S. security ally, have also been worsening over the Communist-led government's security challenges to self-ruled, democratic Taiwan.
As for the anniversary, Chinese President Xi Jinping was quoted by the Foreign Ministry as telling Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during their telephone talks last October that he hopes the two nations will "embrace this significant historical juncture."
Following Xi's remarks, an official of the government-backed China-Japan Friendship Association told the Japanese side in early December about what kind of ceremony it can hold in cooperation with it, according to the source.
The official is believed to be a close aide of Cheng Yonghua, executive vice president of the organization, who served as China's Ambassador to Japan for around nine years until 2019.
The source said the official asked Kishida's government to hold an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary and invite "Japanese political and business leaders who have contributed to the development of relations" between the two countries.
But such a ceremony would be held online if the outbreak expands, the source added.
Xi might not attend a face-to-face event on the occasion of the anniversary, given that he has not directly met with political leaders from other nations since the virus began to rage at home in early 2020.
While saying China is "willing" to hold a memorial ceremony with Japan, the source voiced concern that bilateral ties may deteriorate before September over Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Kishida is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden virtually on Friday. If they touch on Taiwan, a core interest of China, Xi's leadership will react sharply to it, foreign affairs experts say.
In September 2012, China canceled events to celebrate the 40th anniversary of normalized ties in retaliation for Japan's nationalization earlier that month of the Senkaku Islands claimed by Beijing.
The group of uninhabited islets controlled by Japan in the East China Sea are called Diaoyu in China. Sino-Japanese relations have often been frayed by the issue.
Japan severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established them with mainland China in 1972. Beijing and Taipei have been separately governed since they split in 1949 as a result of a civil war.