North Korea threat top of agenda at China-Japan high level talks

Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi shake hands with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida before their meeting at the Iikura Guest House in Tokyo on May 30, 2017.
Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi shake hands with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida before their meeting at the Iikura Guest House in Tokyo on May 30, 2017.ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM
Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi (fifth from left) meets Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the Iikura Guest House in Tokyo on May 30, 2017.
Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi (fifth from left) meets Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the Iikura Guest House in Tokyo on May 30, 2017.ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

TOKYO - The North Korean nuclear and missile threat was at the top of the agenda as Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi on Tuesday (May 30) for their latest round of high-level talks, as China stressed the use of "peaceful methods" to deal with the threat.

This comes after Mr Yang, whose post is equivalent to deputy prime minister, met Japan's top security adviser Shotaro Yachi over five hours on Monday (May 29), said a statement by Japan's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.

This came hours after the North fired its 12th missile over nine tests earlier that day.

Mr Yang, who will return to China on Wednesday (May 31), stressed "the use of peaceful methods to resolve the situation on the Korean Peninsula" in his brief opening remarks.

He added that it was a crucial year to raise Sino-Japanese ties to a new level, given that the two nations mark 45 years since the normalisation of ties this year. They will also mark 40 years since the signing of a bilateral Treaty of Peace and Friendship next year.

Mr Kishida, meanwhile, said the North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear threat has entered a new phase, and that it was crucial for China and Japan to communicate closely and have a frank exchange of views.

Mr Kishida told reporters earlier on Tuesday morning that Pyongyang's repeated provocations have made it all the more critical for the international community to exert strong pressure on the wayward state.

He reiterated the agreement struck by leaders of the Japan and the United States to take "concrete action" against Pyongyang on Monday, though there have not been any details on what this action might be.

"And because China's role is extremely large, I too would also like to encourage China to play a firm role," he added.

The missile fired by North Korea on Monday was the reclusive state's third in three weeks, and has prompted widespread condemnation from global leaders.

Appearing to be a Scud variant, it was fired from Wonsan off North Korea's east coast and flew 450km towards Japan. It fell into waters in Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in what is the fourth such incident, and first since March this year.

On Tuesday, Pyongyang confirmed it had successfully tested a new "precision-guided" ballistic missile and said it was working to send a larger "gift package to the Yankees" - a reference to its professed desire to build an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the United States.

Mr Yachi, who is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's top security adviser, told Mr Yang on Monday that the two countries need to work together to curb the threat.

He was quoted as saying at the close-door meeting: "Japan and China need to work together to strongly urge North Korea to avoid further provocative actions and obey things like United Nations resolutions."

The duo also discussed other regional issues, including the South China Sea and Taiwan, with Mr Yang saying that Japan should see Chinese development as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Mr Yang also stressed that the importance China attaches to forging closer ties with Japan "remains unchanged".

Ties between China, the world's second-largest economy, and Japan, the third-largest, have repeatedly been strained by mistrust due to historical baggage.

Given Japan's aggression in China during World War II, Beijing sees Tokyo's increasing defence budget and conservative policies as harking back to Japan's militaristic past.

The suspicion is exacerbated by a territorial dispute over a group of islets in the East China Sea known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China.

China, meanwhile, claims virtually the entire South China Sea, which has territories contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and has been reclaiming land and building military assets in the waterway.

Japan's increasing activity in the waterway, coupled with its championing of the respect of the rule of law and international norms over maritime disputes, has irked China - most recently last weekend, when Beijing was angered by a communique put out by Group of Seven (G-7) leaders including Mr Abe.

The statement had pointedly said: "We remain concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly opposed to any unilateral actions that could increase tensions. We urge all parties to pursue demilitarisation of disputed features."

On Monday, Mr Yang asked Japan to be "cautious with its words and actions" with regard to the South China Sea and to "play a constructive role" in resolving the issues, a China Daily report said.

The same report added that Mr Yang said he was heartened by Japan's interest in the Belt and Road initiative, and that the two countries should quickly upgrade their trade cooperation to a higher level.

waltsim@sph.com.sg