Japan calls on China to up North Korea cooperation amid signs of warming ties

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi pose before their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Jan 28. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - Japan's foreign minister called on China to increase cooperation on curbing North Korea's nuclear weapons programme on Sunday (Jan 28) during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing.

Japan's foreign minister Taro Kono said that the two countries shared a major responsibility in safeguarding the stability and prosperity of Asia and the world at large.

"Not only do we need to manage our bilateral relations, but we also need to work together to deal with issues facing the entire globe, in particular the issue of North Korea, which is the matter at hand for international society as a whole. We desire to extend mutual cooperation between our two countries in working toward resolving this issue," he said.

The meeting between Kono and China's foreign minister Wang Yi comes as the neighbours aim to improve relations held back by longstanding and seemingly intractable disputes over territory and Japan's war-time legacy.

While ties between Asia's two largest economies have shown signs of warming, China's president Xi Jinping and Japan's PM Shinzo Abe have yet to meet on their own soil. They met in November on the sidelines of a regional summit in Vietnam.

In remarks at Beijing's Diaoyutai State Guest House, Kono praised the progress between the countries towards improving ties, while calling on Beijing to do more to curb Pyongyang's weapons programme.

"I believe it is important not only to discuss issues related to our two countries, but for Japan and China to stand side by side to deal with global issues," he said.

"In particular, the North Korea issue is now an urgent issue for the whole of international society."

Tokyo has been wooing China with official visits and business delegations, but an exchange of state visits has remained a hard sell.

Japan is hoping that will change this year as the two countries prepare to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the signing of a Japan-China friendship treaty.

Relations between the two countries are at a "crucial stage," Chinese foreign minister Wang told Kono, adding that improved ties are in both nation's interests, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Wang told Kono that his trip to China, coming so early in the year, showed Japan's strong wish to improve relations, and China hopes to work with Japan to get relations back onto a normal track.

However, Wang said that while there has been positive progress, there are also many "disturbances and obstructions".

"China-Japan relations have always been like a boat going against a current, drifting backwards unless you forge ahead," Wang said in comments made in front of reporters.

"We hope that the Japanese side will neither relax in its efforts nor fall back, and turn the spoken statements into concrete actions."

China and Japan have long sparred over their painful history, with Beijing frequently accusing Tokyo of not properly atoning for Japan's invasion of China before and during World War II.

Ties between China and Japan, the world's second- and third-largest economies, have also been plagued by a long-running territorial dispute over a cluster of East China Sea islets and suspicion in China about efforts by Abe to amend Japan's Pacifist Constitution.

Tokyo's decision to "nationalise" some of the islets, known as "Senkaku" in Japanese and "Diaoyu", by the Chinese side, in 2012 led to a major falling out between the two countries, and the fragile relationship has been slow to recover.

China on Friday (Jan 26) said it was "strongly dissatisfied" with the opening of a museum devoted to the disputed islets in Tokyo.

The museum, which opened Thursday (Jan 25) and is run by the Japanese government, displays documents and photographs defending Japan's claims over two sets of islands that China and South Korea also see as their own.

Chinese coastguard vessels routinely travel around the disputed islands, a practice that has elicited regular objections from Japan, which controls the region.

Although the issue was not mentioned publicly, it was likely a subject of conversation behind closed doors, as the disagreement heated up earlier this month when Tokyo revealed that Beijing had sent a nuclear-powered submarine to the area for the first time.

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