Kan eyes China visit in spring.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan is considering visiting China, possibly next spring, in an effort to improve bilateral ties that have soured since the September maritime collisions between a Chinese fishing boat and two Japanese patrol boats in waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands, government sources said Thursday.
Kan would meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in what would be the first visit to the country by an incumbent Japanese prime minister since Yukio Hatoyama's visit in October 2009.
In 2011, Japan is scheduled to host a regular trilateral summit of the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea, possibly by the end of June, which China's Premier Wen Jiabao is expected to attend.
Tokyo hopes Kan's visit to China will come before the three-way summit so the two countries can achieve reciprocal visits by their leaders.
However, the likelihood of the envisaged visit taking place remains unclear as China has hit back at Japan's new defense policy platform that expresses concerns about China's military developments.
The National Defense Program Guidelines describe China's military movements, such as its naval activities around Japan's southwestern Nansei Islands, as a ''matter of concern for the region and the international community.''
China has also reacted sharply to the move by the city assembly of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, which passed an ordinance on Dec. 17 to designate Jan. 14 as a day to commemorate the integration of the Senkaku Islands into Japanese territory, with a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman claiming in a statement that Japan ''stealthily occupied'' the islands, known in China as the Diaoyu Islands, on Jan. 14, 1895.
Kan was initially invited to China by Hu at their meeting in Toronto in June shortly after he assumed the premiership. Kan responded he would visit China at an appropriate time, but the plan was not promoted due to the maritime collisions in the East China Sea.
The two leaders confirmed the importance of bilateral ties when Hu visited Japan to attend the Asia-Pacific summit in Yokohama in November, while resuming high-level diplomatic talks in December.
Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara is also planning to visit China as part of efforts to pave the way for Kan's visit, the sources said.
At home, Kan's Cabinet has seen its approval ratings drop below 30 percent, and some government officials said Kan needs to stabilize the domestic political situation before arranging his trip to China.