Japan's minister visits China amid tensions

Mr Kishida leaving Hiroshima University's Beijing Research Centre at Capital Normal University in Beijing after a visit yesterday. He is reportedly seeking to make preparations for a summit between Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi
Mr Kishida leaving Hiroshima University's Beijing Research Centre at Capital Normal University in Beijing after a visit yesterday. He is reportedly seeking to make preparations for a summit between Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and restart a ministerial-level economic dialogue.PHOTO: REUTERS

Foreign Minister may face criticisms over Tokyo's recent actions on regional issues

Preparations for a leaders' summit and resumption of an economic dialogue top the to-do list for Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is making a rare visit to Beijing amid signs of a reversal in warming bilateral ties, say analysts.

But Mr Kishida, who is scheduled to meet Premier Li Keqiang, State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi today, may also have to brace himself for criticisms over his country's recent actions on bilateral and regional issues, they added.

Sino-Japanese relations expert Liu Jiangyong from Tsinghua University believes China would register its dissatisfaction with what it deemed to be Japan's intervention in the South China Sea territorial disputes involving China, Taiwan and four Asean nations.

Earlier this month, Beijing accused Tokyo of hijacking the agenda at a meeting of Group of Seven (G-7) foreign ministers in Hiroshima by getting the South China Sea issue included in the joint communique. The G-7 should have focused on righting a sluggish global economy, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said at the time.

Professor Liu said China would also criticise what it regards as Japan's continued lack of contrition over its World War II actions. Last week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine, which houses Japan's war dead, including several figures convicted of war crimes.

REDUCING FRICTION

If this (Mr Kishida's) visit cannot resolve the differences fundamentally, preparations for the upcoming meeting between leaders will take on added importance, with the aim of increasing coordination to avoid further friction.

PROF LIU JIANGYONG, Sino-Japanese relations expert from Tsinghua University.

"If this (Mr Kishida's) visit cannot resolve the differences fundamentally, preparations for the upcoming meeting between leaders will take on added importance, with the aim of increasing coordination to avoid further friction," he said.

Mr Kishida, who became Foreign Minister in December 2012, is making his first trip to China since his predecessor Koichiro Genba visited in November 2011. Bilateral ties went into a tailspin in September 2012, when Japan nationalised some islands in the East China Sea that are also claimed by China.

The Japanese minister is reportedly seeking to make preparations for a leaders' summit between Mr Abe and President Xi Jinping, who last met at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit held in Beijing in November 2014.

Another priority is to restart a ministerial-level meeting on economic affairs, which began in 2007 and has not been held since 2010 after both countries got embroiled in the dispute over the East China Sea islands, referred to as Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan.

Though Mr Kishida said on Monday that he hoped his visit would build a Japan-China relationship appropriate for "the new era", it is met with scepticism from China's state media.

A commentary in the Xinhua news agency yesterday noted that "thawing the frosty relations between China and Japan requires Tokyo to take concrete action, including abandoning its historical revisionism and putting an end to its meddling in the South China Sea".

"The 'new era' should be laid out with concrete actions instead of empty words," it added.

At the inaugural China-Japan- South Korea Public Diplomacy Forum held in Beijing yesterday, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui made a veiled swipe at Japan when he called for the "correct historical view" in his keynote speech.

Stressing the need for practical cooperation, he said the three East Asian neighbours should step up negotiations on a free trade pact and explore three-way collaboration in areas such as infrastructure in third-party countries.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2016, with the headline 'Japan's minister visits China amid tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe