Japan’s Komeito party leader seeks to visit China by year end

Mr Natsuo Yamaguchi postponed a planned trip to China in August after Beijing told his party it was not an “appropriate” time to visit. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TOKYO – The leader of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s coalition partner party is seeking to arrange a visit to China in 2023, after cancelling a trip in August as friction rose with his country’s biggest trading partner.

Komeito party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said, in an interview with Bloomberg News at his offices in Tokyo on Tuesday, that he wanted to visit China in 2023, which marks the 45th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China that enabled Sino-Japanese ties to thrive. 

“Cooperating and fulfilling our responsibilities and roles will lead to stability and development for the international community,” Mr Yamaguchi said, regarding efforts to mend ties between the world’s second- and third-largest economies. 

Komeito, the longstanding junior partner in the coalition with Mr Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), is known for maintaining connections with China, even when government relations turn cold.

Yet Mr Yamaguchi postponed a planned trip to China in August after Beijing told his party it was not an “appropriate” time to visit, given the state of relations between the two countries. 

His trip had been due to take place just after Japan began a release of treated wastewater in August from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.

The discharge has infuriated China and the two countries have publicly clashed over it, most recently at the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna this week, according to Japan’s Sankei newspaper. 

Nevertheless, officials from South Korea, Japan and China agreed at a meeting in Seoul on Tuesday to hold a trilateral meeting of their foreign ministers within a few months and a summit at the earliest appropriate time.

Such three-way events have sometimes served as stepping stones toward improving bilateral ties. 

Separately, Mr Kishida has asked the two ruling parties to consider measures to be included in an economic package that would be drawn up in October and funded by an extra budget.

Mr Yamaguchi said the government should consider extending subsidies on petrol, heating oil, gas and electricity to the end of the financial year on March 31, depending on market movements.

Mr Kishida recently extended fuel aid to the end of 2023, after a request from Komeito.  

Handouts for low-income households in the form of cash or vouchers should also be considered, Mr Yamaguchi added. One of the main causes of low public support for the Kishida Cabinet has been dissatisfaction with measures to help those hit by inflation. 

The party, whose electoral support is vital to the LDP, often focuses on policies to help lower-income groups. BLOOMBERG

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