Akihito tells Li he hopes for better bilateral relations

Japan's Emperor Akihito (left) talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (right) during their meeting at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, on May 10, 2018.
Japan's Emperor Akihito (left) talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (right) during their meeting at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, on May 10, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

Japan's Emperor Akihito told visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang yesterday that he hopes Sino-Japan relations will continue to improve, and be marked by "goodwill and friendship".

His comments, according to the Imperial Household Agency, were in response to Mr Li, who conveyed his hopes that his visit - the first by a Chinese premier in nearly eight years - will be the impetus for a "long-lasting and stable relationship".

Emperor Akihito, who will abdicate the throne on April 30 next year, is known to be well regarded by Chinese citizens for his active efforts to soothe the wounds of a war fought in the name of his father, Hirohito.

He recalled with nostalgia his warm interactions with Chinese citizens during his visit to China with Empress Michiko in October 1992.

Mr Li, who had an audience with the Emperor for 20 minutes, said that visit had left an "indelible impression" on Chinese citizens.

The monarch also thanked Mr Li for China's donation of a pair of crested ibises that was pledged on Wednesday. Another two birds were gifted in 2007.

He said: "Although ibises were once extinct in Japan, I'm glad many are being bred again, thanks to China's help."

Mr Li's four-day official visit coincides with the 40th year of a bilateral friendship treaty, and the meeting with the Emperor came a day after he sat down for three-way talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae In.

Bilateral ties between Japan and China - long marred by history and a bitter territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea - have been improving rapidly as their leaders vowed a fresh start.

Japan was initially cool towards China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious plan to connect the country with the rest of Asia, Africa and Europe through a series of infrastructure projects. But Mr Abe has since warmed towards the idea and pledged to work together on a "project-by-project basis" - with the caveat that they uphold international norms of transparency and debt sustainability.

The two leaders said on Wednesday after their bilateral meeting that they will launch a new public-private consortium to look into possible projects.

Speaking at a reception to mark the 40th year of the friendship treaty, Mr Li said Tokyo's participation in the BRI will serve as an additional boost for the Japanese economy, which has been showing signs of modest recovery after years of being mired in a deep funk.

The two leaders flew to Japan's northernmost Hokkaido prefecture yesterday afternoon.

They are due to attend a meeting of Chinese provincial and Japanese prefectural governors this morning.

Walter Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2018, with the headline 'Akihito tells Li he hopes for better bilateral relations'. Print Edition | Subscribe