BEIJING — China's vice president met Tuesday with a delegation of governors from Japan amid strained bilateral ties, a rare high-level meeting that points to Japan's hopes of a summit between the two countries' leaders at a regional conference next month.
Vice President Li Yuanchao told the group, which was led by the president of Japan's National Governors' Association, Keiji Yamada, that China hopes for an improvement in relations that have been soured over an islands dispute.
A brief account of the meeting from China's official Xinhua News Agency also said Li referred to "the spirit of drawing lessons from history," pointing to China's displeasure with statements from Japanese politicians seen as minimizing Japanese responsibility for its brutal World War II invasion and occupation of much of China.
Such meetings have grown extremely rare following a major deterioration in ties two years ago after Japan nationalized a group of uninhabited islands claimed by both countries.
The sides are also feuding over Japanese leaders' visits to a Tokyo shrine to the spirits of the country's war dead, including executed war criminals, as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's new interpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution that allows the military to defend the U.S. and other allies under what is known as collective self-defense.
The disagreements have cast a shadow over possibilities for a first-ever meeting between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping during an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing next month.
While top Japanese officials have expressed a desire to see that meeting happen, China has so far been noncommittal. Chinese public opinion remains strongly anti-Japanese and the country's entirely state-controlled media has been highly critical of Abe and his conservative Liberal Democratic Party.