Diplomats from Japan, China vow to boost bilateral ties

Mr Kong Xuanyou (left) and Mr Takeo Akiba discussed the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile threat and the political situation in South Korea, among other things, during their meeting at the Iikura Guest House in Tokyo yesterday.
Mr Kong Xuanyou (left) and Mr Takeo Akiba discussed the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile threat and the political situation in South Korea, among other things, during their meeting at the Iikura Guest House in Tokyo yesterday.ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

Senior diplomats from Japan and China yesterday vowed to improve bilateral ties as they held talks to set up a likely summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping in July.

Also top of their agenda was the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile threat, as intelligence sources in Tokyo and Seoul warned that the reclusive state's sixth nuclear test was imminent.

Japanese deputy foreign minister for political affairs Takeo Akiba and Chinese assistant foreign minister Kong Xuanyou agreed that close communication between the two sides was crucial in improving Sino-Japanese ties.

The duo said the meeting was timely as the two countries mark 45 years of the normalisation of diplomatic relations this year, and 40 years of the Japan-China peace and friendship treaty next year.

The two senior diplomats shook hands without smiling before delegates from both sides sat down for a four-hour meeting at the Iikura Guest House in Tokyo, as part of the 26th Japan-China Diplomatic Dialogue, an irregular dialogue series. Yesterday's session followed the 25th session held in Beijing five months earlier.

Mr Kong - an old Japan hand tipped to be the next Chinese ambassador to Japan after current ambassador Cheng Yonghua - said there was a need to "sustainably improve the bilateral relationship in the right direction".

Mr Akiba said: "To improve ties and appropriately deal with problems, we have to expand our cooperation and try to build consensus on different issues." He did not give any examples.

Relations between the two East Asian states have been plagued by a territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea, where Chinese warships and fighter jets have made repeated incursions into Japanese waters and air space.

China, where wartime wounds inflicted by Japan still run deep, also has misgivings about Japan's expanding military budget and the role of its Self-Defence Force.

Yesterday's meeting is set to pave the way for a summit between Mr Abe and Mr Xi on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, in July. If this takes place, it will be their first bilateral meeting since last November, when they met for 10 minutes on the sidelines of the Apec summit in Lima, Peru.

Mr Akiba and Mr Kong also exchanged views on uncertainties on the Korean Peninsula, including how to curb the North Korea threat.

China, a major economic benefactor and political ally of Pyongyang, has often been accused of not doing enough to rein in the North.

Both men also discussed the political situation in South Korea, which will elect a new leader on May 9. Former president Park Geun Hye, ousted in an influence-peddling scandal, is in jail.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'Diplomats from Japan, China vow to boost bilateral ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe