Japan's Shinzo Abe tells China no improvement in ties without stability in East China Sea

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a bilateral meeting on Wednesday, a day after a trilateral summit between China, Japan and South Korea.
China's Premier Li Keqiang (right) shakes hands with Japan's PM Shinzo Abe during their meeting in Dujyangyan, Sichuan province, on Dec 25, 2019.
China's Premier Li Keqiang (right) shakes hands with Japan's PM Shinzo Abe during their meeting in Dujyangyan, Sichuan province, on Dec 25, 2019.PHOTO: AFP
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China's Premier Li Keqiang at a bilateral meeting in Chengdu, China, on Dec 25, 2019.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China's Premier Li Keqiang at a bilateral meeting in Chengdu, China, on Dec 25, 2019.PHOTOS: REUTERS, AP

CHENGDU (REUTERS, AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday (Dec 25) told Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that there would be no true improvement in bilateral relations without stability in the East China Sea, Japan's foreign ministry said.

The two leaders held a bilateral meeting in the Chinese city of Chengdu, on the sidelines of a three-way summit with South Korea.

Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that Mr Abe and Mr Li met for about 50 minutes from around 10am local time.

It was the two leaders' 7th meeting, with the previous one held in November.

Japan's foreign ministry said Mr Abe told Mr Li he wanted to sustain recent improvements in ties between the two countries through the promotion of constant high-level exchanges and dialogues.

Mr Abe also urged Mr Li to swiftly remove import restrictions on Japanese food products, the ministry said in a summary of the meeting.

Mr Li was quoted as saying that the momentum has been maintained for improving Sino-Japanese ties, adding that they are now back on a "normal track," according to Kyodo News.

He also said Beijing was willing to strengthen economic cooperation with Tokyo in third-country markets, adding that China would "further open up its services industry" to Japan.

During a separate meeting on Monday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Mr Li said China was willing to work on a rail network linking Korea with China and Europe, Yonhap news agency reported.

Mr Li’s remarks come as China and the United States edge closer to an initial trade agreement after imposing tariffs on billions of dollars worth of goods over nearly two years in a bruising trade war that has hit the global economy.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump touted a "very good talk" he had held with China’s President Xi Jinping on a deal to resolve the dispute.

 
 
 

However details of the so-called "phase one" deal between the world’s two largest economies have yet to be published in writing, with officials citing incomplete translation and legal work.

Meanwhile relations between the pair have been further strained by US legislators’ support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and their condemnation of the mass internment of Muslim minorities in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang.

Mr Li stressed on Wednesday the importance of China’s trade ties with Japan and South Korea, saying their vast volume of trade was due to the "joint protection of regional stability and peace".

China, Japan and South Korea held a summit on Tuesday that also touched on a planned free-trade agreement between the three nations, which has been many years in the making.

Trade among the trio was worth more than US$720 billion (S$975.38 billion) in 2018, according to a joint statement issued Tuesday night by the leaders.

The countries will "speed up the negotiations" on the agreement and "strive to realise a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment", the statement said.

The leaders plan for the new trilateral free-trade agreement (FTA) to build on a separate, sprawling China-backed Asian trade pact, which if signed would be the world’s biggest trade deal.

That pact, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), was meant to account for 30 per cent of global GDP and loop in half of the world’s people.

 
 

But India rejected the RCEP deal at a summit in November, dealing it a major blow. 

The remaining members of RCEP, which include all 10 Asean states plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, are aiming to sign it next year after reviewing an agreed draft text.

"Negotiations on the trilateral FTA will become more active as soon as they are able to conclude the negotiation on RCEP," Japanese foreign ministry spokesperson Masato Otaka said Tuesday.