A Japanese envoy has arrived in Beijing for talks aimed at cooling tensions over an island dispute that has raised fears of an armed confrontation.
Natsuo Yamaguchi made no comments upon his arrival but told reporters in Tokyo he hoped his trip would help ease months of friction over the uninhabited East China Sea islands that are controlled by Japan but claimed by China.
"It is important for us to have consultations to normalise our relationship," said Mr Yamaguchi, a politician who leads the New Komeito party, the junior partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
However, he said Tokyo's assertion that the islands are Japanese territory is unchanged, rejecting Chinese demands to acknowledge any dispute over their sovereignty.
Both nations have called for dialogue recently, and Chinese state broadcaster CCTV led its noon news broadcast with a live report on Mr Yamaguchi's arrival in a sign of the importance Beijing attaches to his visit.
Mr Yamaguchi is not a member of the government so his meetings in Beijing represent a type of quiet diplomacy that could allow for a franker exchange of views than official talks might.
Mr Yamaguchi's schedule for his four-day visit hasn't been announced, although Chinese media reported he was to deliver a letter from Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe addressed to Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Tensions soared after Japan's government bought the uninhabited islands, known in Chinese as Diaoyu and Japanese as Senkaku, from their private owners in September.
Trade and tourism between the countries have dropped off sharply and almost all bilateral meetings between their officials have been cancelled. The islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and a potential wealth of gas, oil and other undersea resources.
For China, they also mark a strategic gateway to the Pacific Ocean and represent the deeply emotional legacy of Japan's conquest of Chinese territory beginning in 1895, as well as its brutal Second World War occupation of much of the country.