Japan and China turn the page on fraught ties, with Chinese foreign minister in Tokyo

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) and Japanese counterpart Taro Kono meeting in Tokyo on April 15, 2018.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) and Japanese counterpart Taro Kono meeting in Tokyo on April 15, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Asia's two largest economies on Sunday (April 15) vowed to work closely together on business and security issues while deftly managing their differences, in the face of policy whiplash from the United States.

China's top envoy Wang Yi, who is the first Chinese Foreign Minister to visit Tokyo in nearly 8½ years, said at the outset of talks with his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, that he hoped bilateral ties could "return on a path of sustainable and normal development" even though there were some "complex and sensitive elements."

Both men are meeting for the second time in three months, after a fence-mending trip by Mr Kono to Beijing in January. They reiterated on Sunday that Sino-Japanese ties were at a crucial turning point as both sides marked the 40th year of a peace and friendship treaty.

On Monday, they will convene a high-level economic dialogue for the first time since 2010.

Bilateral ties have remained fraught ever since Tokyo nationalised a group of contested islets in the East China Sea in 2012, known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China.

In the face of increased Chinese activity near the islands - including the unprecedented entry of a stealth nuclear-powered submarine this year - Japan said on Friday (April 13) that it would be beefing up its patrols in the area.

Japan sees China's increasing military assertiveness in the region as a major security threat. In Beijing, the rancour of wartime wounds has fanned the flames of mistrust as Tokyo pushes to revise its pacifist Constitution.

Mr Kono said that he saw Mr Wang's three-day visit ending Tuesday as a "major step forward". Both foreign ministers are expected to lay the groundwork for the first exchange of official visits by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping since they took power in 2012.

They also discussed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Japan next month for a much-delayed trilateral summit with Mr Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae In. Mr Li will be the first Chinese Premier to visit Tokyo since May 2011.

 

Mr Kono and his Chinese counterpart also discussed Pyongyang at their meeting yesterday, which came weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Beijing for a surprise summit with Mr Xi.

Japan, a longtime US ally, was not consulted when US President Donald Trump said he would enter into talks with Mr Kim, fuelling concerns that Tokyo was being left by the wayside on North Korea.

Mr Kono said on Sunday: "I want Japan and China to coordinate even more towards our shared goal of the complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearisation of North Korea."

Japan and China also want closer business and economic ties, stepping up cooperation in the face of US protectionism and tariffs.

They are discussing a trilateral free trade deal with South Korea, and are part of the proposed 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership pact.

Meanwhile, Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko met Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan for talks on Sunday.

Mr Zhong said: "The gates of China's reform are not closed and are instead opening up even further."

Both sides are looking at ways to open up their service sectors to each other, with Japan keen to bring its expertise on nursing and eldercare into an increasingly ageing Chinese market. Conversely, China sees demand in Japan for its cashless payment and distance learning services.

Also, while Japan and China are seen traditionally as rivals in their battle for soft power influence through overseas development aid, the two ministers said on Sunday that they would be seeking to cooperate on infrastructure projects in third countries.