The subject was Taiwan, and Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping's Japanese visitor wanted to emphasize how important Tokyo felt it was to have a peaceful solution.
The visitor, former Premier Takeo Fukuda, scribbled a few lines of Chinese characters on a piece of paper and handed it to Mr. Deng. The latter looked at the paper intently, then nodded deeply.
''To fight a hundred battles and win a hundred battles is not the summum bonum (highest good),'' Mr. Fukuda had written. ''To defeat the soldiers of others without using one's own soldiers - this is the summum bonum.''
It was a quotation from Sunzi, the ancient Chinese strategist much admired by succeeding generations of military leaders, including Mao Tse-tung.
Mr. Fukuda, prime minister when Japan signed a treaty of peace and cooperation with China three years ago, has many friends on Taiwan.
He has said that the Taiwan problem is an internal Chinese affair, in which the interposition of outsiders would only roil the waters. Yet Japan, no less than the United States, urgently desires a peaceful solution of the Taiwan problem.
Mr. Fukuda was therefore quick to respond with high praise when Mr. Deng asked him what he thought of Marshal Ye Jianying's nine-point offer of peaceful negotiations to Taiwan. He hoped that Peking would take a patient, tenacious attitude toward peacefully solving its differences with Taiwan. To give added emphasis to his remarks, he penned the quotation from Sunzi.
This byplay between Mr. Fukuda and Mr. Deng represents a kind of communication unique to China and to countries like Japan and Korea, which learned most of their premodern culture, including systems of writing, from the Chinese.
Yet at a Nov. 2 press conference here, Mr. Fukuda clearly differentiated the level of contact Japan has with China from the much broader, deeper relationship Japan has with the US and Western Europe.
World peace is teetering on the brink, Mr. Fukuda said, because of two factors: the rise in East-West tensions following events in Angola, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Cambodia, and the increasing desperation of third-world countries with no oil.
The US, Western Europe, and Japan must develop a common strategy to meet this threat. Japan also has a dialogue with China on this subject, Mr. Fukuda said. But it is nowhere near the level of the discussions Japan has with Western Europe and the US. This frank admission by one of Japan's leading conservative political leaders goes to the heart of the ties China has established, not only with Japan, but also with the US and with various West European countries.
The relationship between China and Japan has never been better in all the 2, 000 years of comings and goings between the two countries. The same can be said of China's ties with Western Europe and the US.
Faced with a common threat - Soviet expansionism - China, the US, Western Europe, and Japan have responded in their own ways. Strategically, China shares the goals of its Western friends. But politically, economically, socially, and culturally China is still a different world.
Flattery and fine words will not bridge the gap. But a detailed search for concrete answers, Mr. Fukuda implied, could eventually find China and its Western partners, including Japan, traveling along a common road.