Japan deputy PM to visit China next month: Report

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan will send Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso to China next month in what would be the first high-level meeting of the Asian powers' new governments amid diplomatic tensions, a report said on Friday.

He planned to meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, both of whom were confirmed in the top posts after a once-in-a-decade power transition this month, according to the Sankei Shimbun.

Mr Aso, who is also finance minister, was also expected to hold talks with China's finance minister, the Japanese newspaper said.

Officials in both countries, which are embroiled in a tense territorial standoff over a group of islands in the East China Sea, have begun coordinating the visit, the report said citing unnamed government sources.

Japan's finance ministry declined to comment.

The proposed visit comes several months after hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party swept December elections on a pledge to fix Japan's moribund economy and get tough on diplomacy.

Mr Abe has used a tough rhetoric over regional territorial disputes including the spat with China which intensified under the previous Japanese administration after it nationalised some of the disputed archipelago in September.

Beijing has repeatedly sent ships and aircraft near the islands - called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China - and both sides have scrambled fighter jets, though there have been no clashes.

However, Mr Abe has also offered peace overtures to China, repeatedly saying the Japan-China relationship was among Tokyo's most-important ties.

A high-powered Japanese business delegation left for Beijing on Thursday and met with former Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan, in a tour aimed at soothing ties ruffled by the diplomatic row, which set off a wave of protests in China and a consumer boycott of Japan-brand goods.

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