Japan and China will resume reciprocal visits by their senior defense officers later this year, an organizer of the program said Tuesday, in what could be the first such interaction in four years.

The restart of the mutual visits between the Self-Defense Forces and the People's Liberation Army, with the aim of building confidence and preventing contingencies, follows the end of China's strict "zero-COVID" policy in January involving lockdowns and quarantines.

About 10 high-ranking SDF members will visit China in July and the PLA members will come to Japan in the fall at the earliest, respectively, according to the nongovernmental Sasakawa Japan-China Friendship Fund.

Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa (C) holds a press conference in Tokyo on May 30, 2023. (Kyodo)

Since the start of the program in 2001, the SDF has made 13 China trips and the PLA has visited Japan 12 times, including the latest exchanges in 2019, the fund said.

The move comes as tensions between Tokyo and Beijing have mounted over issues such as Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island which Communist-led China regards as a breakaway province to be brought into its fold, by force if necessary.

The two Asian powers have also been at odds over repeated intrusions by Chinese ships into Japanese waters around the Tokyo-controlled, Beijing-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and increasing China-Russia joint military activities near Japan.

"Particularly in a situation like this, I believe it is really effective for the private sector to arrange a gateway to mutual understanding" between the two forces, Yohei Sasakawa, honorary chair of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, told a press conference in Tokyo.

During their weeklong stay in each others' nation, the officers will exchange views.

The Japan-China fund, set up by the Sasakawa foundation in 1989, has organized the exchange program together with the China Institute for International Strategic Studies.

Related coverage:

Japan, China eye defense chiefs' talks in Singapore in June: source

Japan to expand use of space for defense, vow to protect satellites

China may move up plan for "world-class military": Japan draft report