(Bloomberg) -- The head of the Japan-Taiwan parliamentary friendship association will go to Taipei to congratulate President Tsai Ing-Wen on her election victory, weeks ahead of an expected state visit to Japan by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Keiji Furuya’s two-day trip from Thursday comes days after China protested Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi’s official congratulatory message to Tsai. China sees Taiwan as a renegade province.

Tsai’s victory reflects strong public backing for her stance amid concern about Hong Kong’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests, Furuya said in an interview Wednesday at his offices in Tokyo. Given that Japan has no formal ties with its southern neighbor, the lawmakers’ association plays an important role, he added.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is hoping to pull off a visit by Xi this spring to crown a steady improvement in relations since he took office amid a heated territorial dispute with China in 2012 over a set of islands claimed by both countries. But the relationship is riddled with problems, including frequent incursions by Chinese government ships into what Japan sees as its territorial waters around the disputed islands.

Defense Minister Taro Kono said in a speech in Washington on Tuesday that Japan could not overlook the incursions and urged China to “improve the situation” or risk creating a “difficult environment” for Xi’s visit.

To contact the reporters on this story: Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo at ireynolds1@bloomberg.net;Takashi Hirokawa in Tokyo at thirokawa@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Jon Herskovitz, Chris Kay

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