Japanese business leaders will visit China in January for the first time since 2019 following disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with preparations underway for a meeting with President Xi Jinping's leadership, sources familiar with the bilateral relationship said Friday.

Despite ongoing tensions stemming from various issues, such as the release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea, the business group aims to emphasize the significance of economic cooperation between the two Asian neighbors.

Masakazu Tokura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation. (Kyodo)

Members of the group will include Masakazu Tokura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, the country's most influential business lobby known as Keidanren, Ken Kobayashi, head of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Kosei Shindo, the chairman of Nippon Steel Corp. who heads the Japan-China Economic Association, the sources said.

The delegation is planning to exchange opinions with senior officials of China's National Development and Reform Commission, as well as the Commerce Ministry, during its four-day visit from Jan. 23, they added.

The bilateral tensions have created a hostile environment for some Japanese businesses operating in China.

Beijing, staunchly opposed to the Fukushima water release, has imposed a ban on all seafood imports from Japan. Escalating anti-Japan sentiment in response to the ocean discharge has resulted in numerous cancellations of Chinese group tours to Japan and widespread online calls for boycotting Japanese products.

Japanese businesses also face increased personnel risks in China following the detention of an Astellas Pharma Inc. employee in Beijing in March on suspicion of spying, coupled with the enactment of a revised counterespionage law in July, further tightening control in the country.

The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, an economic organization, will host the Japanese delegation. Despite the strained relations, it is anticipated that Beijing will seek increased investment from Japan as it grapples with an economic downturn exacerbated by a property market crisis.

The Japan-China Economic Association has sent business delegations to the neighboring country almost every year since 1975 but suspended their dispatch due to the pandemic. In September 2019, members of the group met with then Premier Li Keqiang.

A Keidanren official said the delegation hopes to explore areas for potential cooperation during the "long-awaited" China trip. "Even though bilateral relations face a severe situation, (China) is an important country for Japan," the official added.

Related coverage:

South Korea, China foreign ministers agree to seek talks with Japan

China defends seafood import ban as Japan hints at complaint to WTO

Leaders of China, Japan, South Korea seeking to meet by year-end