Tokyo governor to make 'city diplomacy' visit to Beijing

Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe delivers a speech at a meeting of the IOC-TOKYO 2020 1st project review in Tokyo on April 3, 2014. Tokyo's top local official said on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, he will visit Beijing this month at the invitation of its may
Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe delivers a speech at a meeting of the IOC-TOKYO 2020 1st project review in Tokyo on April 3, 2014. Tokyo's top local official said on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, he will visit Beijing this month at the invitation of its mayor, in an attempt by officials to heal Japan and China's bruised relations.  -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Tokyo's top local official said on Tuesday he will visit Beijing this month at the invitation of its mayor, in an attempt by officials to heal Japan and China's bruised relations.

Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, a former health minister who took office in February, will conduct a three-day trip as the guest of mayor Wang Anshun, the first Tokyo governor in 18 years to be invited.

He said he would stay in the Chinese capital between April 24-26 and hoped to offer advice on how to address Beijing's toxic air pollution and improve its healthcare provision, learning from Tokyo's example.

Tokyo began to tackle its own problems with air pollution as far back as the 1970s, and is known for its sophisticated medical care in Japan, especially for the elderly.

Mr Masuzoe said he would be seeking advice from his Beijing counterpart on staging a world-class Olympics after China's triumphant 2008 Games, as Tokyo prepares to host its own in 2020.

"It would be fortunate if the two cities could help improve Japan-China relations by building on these exchanges," he told a news conference.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the top spokesman for the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said Mr Masuzoe had informed the premier of his plan to visit Beijing.

Tokyo-Beijing ties have cooled considerably since September 2012 when Japan nationalised some of the Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus, sending coastguard ships from the two countries facing off in nearby waters.

But there have been clear efforts on both sides to improve ties between the two giant neighbours, who have substantial economic links.

Prime Minister Abe met with the eldest son of the late Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang earlier this month, in a development that signals efforts by Tokyo to mend its ties with Beijing, Kyodo News reported on Tuesday, citing unspecified sources.

Mr Abe apparently explored a chance to hold a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping when he met with Mr Hu Deping, who is known for his closeness to Mr Xi, the news agency said. Mr Hu visited Japan on April 6-13 at the invitation of the Japanese foreign ministry.

Public broadcaster NHK also reported on Tuesday that a Japanese parliamentarian group promoting friendship with China is planning to visit Beijing next month at the invitation of Chinese organisations.

Aside from capital-to-capital exchanges, nationalist politician Shintaro Ishihara attended the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as the then-Tokyo governor as the guest of the games' organisers.