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At the invitation of the China-Japan Friendship Association, a Japanese delegation led by former Japanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama (center) and president of Japan-China Friendship Association Koichi Kato (first from left) arrived in Beijing on Monday on a four-day visit. Wang Jing / China Daily
High-level Tokyo delegation to discuss islands
A Japanese delegation, which includes a former prime minister, arrived in Beijing on Monday to discuss tension over the Diaoyu Islands.
However, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his first policy speech to parliament since winning the December election, reiterated his government's plan to boost defense spending.
Analysts urged both countries to engage in dialogue amid increasing signs of Japanese nationalism and growing public support to boost the military's role.
Tomiichi Murayama, former Japanese prime minister and a frequent visitor to China, arrived on Monday. He was accompanied on the four-day trip by Koichi Kato, president of Japan-China Friendship Association and former secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, the main party in Japan's ruling coalition.
Murayama plans to discuss the Diaoyu Islands, Japan's Kyodo news agency said.
Also in the delegation is Gen Nakatani, the LDP deputy secretary-general, and the news agency said he wanted to discuss easing any potential tension in the "security field".
The delegation came at the invitation of the China-Japan Friendship Association.
It follows visits this month by former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama and Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the New Komeito Party, the junior coalition partner.
Ties "have been dragged to a record low", and high-level talks are urgently needed, Kyuhei Muraoka, director-general of the Japan-China Friendship Association, said at a Beijing seminar co-hosted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on Monday. Relations were damaged in September after the Japanese government illegally "purchased" part of the islands, which have belonged to China for centuries.
Tokyo has been adopting an "ostrich policy" toward the islands, said Gao Haikuan, vice-president of the China Society of the History of Sino-Japanese Relations.
"The mission of thawing ties will see little progress unless the islands issue is solved," Gao said.
Uichiro Niwa, former Japanese ambassador to China, told reporters on Monday that the "purchase" was poorly timed.
Niwa said the Japanese government's decision infuriated Beijing, and now both countries have no choice but to allow the issue to cool.
Murayama issued a well-received apology in 1995 for Japan's wartime atrocities.
He is scheduled to meet with Tang Jiaxuan, former State councilor and current president of the China-Japan Friendship Association.
Abe is following a hard and soft policy toward China, said Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies.
Abe's speech to parliament focused on the economy but he also touched upon Japan's security situation, which he said was "getting more severe".
He vowed that his government will "firmly protect" the safety of the Japanese people and territory.
Japan's maritime surveillance capability and the country's emergency response capacity will be beefed up, Abe added.
Tokyo has planned a draft budget proposed on Sunday for increasing defense spending from the next fiscal year by 40 billion yen ($440 million), Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported on Monday.
This is the first boost to defense spending in 11 years.
The budget for the Japan coast guard will be 176.5 billion yen in fiscal 2013, a rise of 40 percent from fiscal 2012. The amount earmarked for the "protection of Japanese territory" is 36.4 billion yen.
Feng Zhaokui, a senior specialist on Japanese studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, warned of a potential lose-lose situation.
"Japan is still seeking to ramp up its armed forces under the cover of the US-Japan alliance," Feng said.
A growing number of the Japanese public supports expanding the military, a survey by the Asahi newspaper and a University of Tokyo research team showed. About 50 percent of voters were in favor of revising the pacifist constitution, up from 41 percent in 2009.
Abe has made it clear he wants to loosen the constitutional limits on the military. The constitution has never been formally altered since it was drafted by US occupation forces in 1947.
Forty-five percent of voters were in favor of allowing Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under attack. That was up from 37 percent in 2009.
Reuters, AP and Xinhua contributed to this story.
(China Daily 01/29/2013 page1)