BEIJING, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The leader of one of Japan's leading parties was in Beijing Tuesday a visit Chinese officials downplayed as part of the countries' "normal communications."
The visit by Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the New Komeito party, is the first by a senior member of the Japanese ruling bloc since Japan raise the level of tensions with China by moving to buy the Diaoyu Islands, called the Senkaku Islands by the Japanese, from a private owner in September, Xinhua News Agency reported Tuesday. Both countries claim sovereignty over the uninhabited East China Sea islands.
China downplayed the visit.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a press briefing that "China has long maintained normal communication and exchanges with Japan's ruling and opposition parties, as well as its non-governmental organizations."
Hong said Chinese expectations from the visit were that it might "enhance bilateral communication, properly promote solutions for related issues and boost the development of bilateral relations."
The visit was arranged by the China-Japan Friendship Association, Hong said.