BEIJING, March 22 (Reuters) - Japan and China are well aware they should maintain economic exchanges despite political and territorial disputes, the outgoing chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., Fujio Cho, said on Friday.
A delegation led by Cho, which cancelled a visit to Beijing last September amid violent anti-Japanese protests across China, was the highest-level Japanese industry group to meet with the Chinese government since a handover of power to a new lineup of Chinese leaders earlier this month.
The protests were triggered by a dispute over a series of tiny uninhabited islets in the East China Sea that have been mostly under Japanese control since 1895 but claimed also by China. Businesses were looted and some Japanese were attacked.
“Even if there are political problems, we should somehow maintain economic exchanges,” Cho, who steps down as chairman of Toyota in June, told reporters. “I felt both sides shared an awareness of this.”
Cho, leading a delegation of businessmen from the Japan-China Economic Association, met earlier in the day with newly named Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao.
Li told the Japanese that he wants to improve relations with Japan which he said, as neighbouring countries, was in the basic interests of both peoples, according to Kenji Inaba, a director of the Japanese association.
Though anti-Japanese sentiment has calmed since the worst of the protests last year, the problem still hangs over crucial trade and economic relations.
Toyota’s combined January-February sales for China dropped 13 percent from the same period a year earlier.
The dispute in recent months had escalated to the point where both sides scrambled fighter jets while patrol ships shadow each other, raising fears that an unintended collision or other incident could lead to a broader clash.
The rocky islets, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, are located near rich fishing grounds and potentially huge oil and gas reserves. (Reporting by Terril Yue Jones; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard)