Stable ties with China important, says Japan's Suga

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (at right) bumping fists with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the start of their meeting in Tokyo yesterday. It was Mr Suga's first high-level meeting with a senior Chinese official since he was elected as J
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (at right) bumping fists with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the start of their meeting in Tokyo yesterday. It was Mr Suga's first high-level meeting with a senior Chinese official since he was elected as Japan's new leader in September. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • In his first high-level meeting with a senior Chinese official, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said stable ties with China are important, as his country pursues a balancing act with its neighbour.

Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met Mr Suga at the end of his two-day trip in Japan, marking the first high-level visit since Mr Suga was elected as the new Japanese leader in September.

"A stable relationship between the two countries is important not only for Japan and China but also for the region and the international community," Mr Suga told Mr Wang in a meeting that lasted about 20 minutes.

The visit by Mr Wang comes amid growing concerns over Beijing's assertiveness in the region.

While Mr Suga steered clear of the harsh anti-China rhetoric used by the United States - Japan's ally - he has moved to counter its influence by deepening ties with Australia and choosing Vietnam and Indonesia for his first overseas trip.

Japan's security strategy is grounded on its alliance with the US, but it has also pursued economic interests with China, its top trading partner.

Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to build "good working relations" with his Japanese counterpart, Mr Wang said, citing a message from Mr Xi that he delivered to Mr Suga.

Mr Wang also said that bilateral relations have "finally returned" to a normal development path.

Mr Wang met his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi on Tuesday. They agreed to cooperate on trade and fighting the coronavirus, but maintained their stances on territorial disputes, leaving a security concern unresolved.

Japan and China agreed to resume business travel this month and to continue talks on disputed isles in the East China Sea.

"I hope both sides will handle the issue calmly and properly so that stable improvement in ties and further development in Sino-Japanese relations won't be affected," Mr Wang told reporters after his meeting with Mr Suga, referring to the situation in the East China Sea.

Still, during Mr Wang's visit, top Japanese officials reiterated concerns over China's continuing activity in the area, but Mr Wang stood by Beijing's stance that it was protecting its sovereignty.

Japan's government has complained of China's "relentless" intrusions in waters around the islets claimed by both nations.

Officials in Tokyo, including Mr Suga, also repeatedly expressed concerns to Mr Wang over developments in Hong Kong, a politically sensitive issue for Beijing.

Pushing forward a three-way free trade deal with Japan and South Korea, Mr Wang is headed to Seoul and will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in today.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2020, with the headline 'Stable ties with China important, says Japan's Suga'. Print Edition | Subscribe