A Japanese delegation led by former House of Representatives speaker Yohei Kono began a four-day visit to China on Monday, with Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki and business representatives among the group's 80-some members.
Members of the Japanese Association for the Promotion of International Trade mission, sent to China for the first time since April 2019, are expected to hold talks with senior Chinese officials during their stay.
The dispatch of the delegation is aimed at helping stabilize bilateral relations that remain strained over China's detention of a Japanese businessman in March and Japan's plan to shortly begin releasing treated radioactive water into the sea from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Tamaki is separately scheduled to visit southeastern China's Fujian Province, which maintains friendly ties with Okinawa Prefecture based on the history of exchanges spanning more than 600 years, including the period of the Ryukyu Kingdom that lasted until the 19th century.
The governor told reporters in June that he expects Japan and China to foster "mutually beneficial relations" by building trust through the delegation's visit.
Referring to the severe security environment surrounding Okinawa amid intensifying U.S.-China rivalry and Beijing's military pressure on Taiwan, Tamaki said he intends to "maintain connections with various countries rather than being concerned about increased tensions."
Okinawa is home to the bulk of the U.S. military presence in Japan and is located close to Taiwan, with the remote Okinawan island of Yonaguni only some 110 kilometers away from the self-ruled democratic island that Beijing regards as its own.
In an interview with The Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with China's ruling Communist Party, Tamaki called on both Japan and the United States to "make efforts to ease tensions" over Taiwan, "establish trust through peaceful diplomacy and dialogue, and take necessary measures to prevent any unforeseen incidents."
The governor also said in the interview published Monday, "We cannot allow Okinawa to become an easier target for attack simply because U.S. military bases are concentrated here," adding local residents believe "Okinawa must never again become a battlefield."
The southern Japanese island was a fierce World War II battleground where a quarter of the local civilian population was killed.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who formerly served as a Fujian governor, made a rare remark in June on past exchanges between China and the Ryukyu Kingdom, which had tributary relations with both China and Japan.
His reference to the kingdom has triggered speculation that Beijing might cast doubt on Okinawa's status as a Japanese territory as a warning to Japan regarding its involvement in matters related to Taiwan.