Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi is considering visiting China later this month, diplomatic sources said Wednesday, as the two nations look for ways to stabilize bilateral ties that have often been strained over issues including a territorial row.
It would be the first visit to China by a Japanese foreign minister in three years. The plan follows the first in-person meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping last month in Bangkok, where the two leaders agreed to arrange Hayashi's trip to China.
During his stay in China, Hayashi is expected to explain Japan's key defense policy documents, including the National Security Strategy, scheduled to be updated this week in an apparent counter to Beijing's military buildup in the Asia-Pacific region, the sources said.
Hayashi's visit would come weeks after China's strict "zero-COVID" policy to stem infections through lockdowns and quarantines effectively collapsed. The stringent restrictions prevented Japan from sending government officials to China.
Japan and China marked the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations this year.
But the two Asian powers have been at odds over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and calls Diaoyu, with Chinese coast guard vessels repeatedly entering Japanese territorial waters around a group of the uninhabited islets.
Hayashi would visit China as tensions between China and the United States, Japan's security ally, have also been growing since U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a trip to Taiwan in August.
Beijing reacted harshly to the third-highest-ranking U.S. official's visit by conducting large-scale military drills near the self-ruled democratic island, including firing ballistic missiles, some of which fell into Japan's exclusive economic zone.
China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 due to a civil war. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Kishida's talks with Xi in November were held on the sidelines of a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the Thai capital, the first face-to-face summit between the two countries in nearly three years.
Against a backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020, no top Japanese diplomats have made trips to China since December 2019, when then Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu.