Japanese minister on trip to Beijing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 July, 2011, 12:00am


Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto arrived in Beijing yesterday to start a two-day visit - his first trip to China since the March 11 quake.

Matsumoto, who took office two days before the disaster, arrived amid speculation that his country's embattled prime minister will visit in October.

Matsumoto's visit - announced just two days before his arrival - is expected to focus on Chinese assistance following the massive Japanese earthquake in March and on territorial implications of a US-Japan security conference in Washington last month.

Matsumoto was to hold talks with his counterpart, Yang Jiechi, this morning, Kyodo News Agency reported.

Liu Jiangyong, a professor of Sino-Japanese relations at Tsinghua University's Institute of International Affairs, called Matsumoto's visit 'very important' and indicative of the country returning to normal following devastation wrought by the quake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown.

'Since the earthquake, the Japanese government has been preoccupied with domestic issues, and foreign policy has inevitably been affected by that,' Liu said. 'Premier Wen Jiabao has already visited the disaster area, so a return visit of some kind was overdue to demonstrate that Japan recognises the importance of the relationship and Chinese assistance after the earthquake.'

Liu said the timing of the visit was also important, as it came just two weeks after the security talks between Japan and the US.

'Although the outcome of that meeting did not directly name China, it identified a number of areas of concern and worries that impinge on Chinese foreign policy,' he said, adding these included developments in the South China Sea and their implications for territorial disputes such as those involving the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan calls the Senkaku.

'For Japan to clarify the content of the talks, that will help avoid any misunderstandings and help stabilise three-way relations between China, Japan and the US.'

The Sankei newspaper reported yesterday that Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan recently told aides to approach their counterparts in Beijing over attending celebrations for the 100th anniversary of China's 1911 revolution, quoting unnamed sources close to the prime minister's office.

The suggestion that Kan will visit China has prompted speculation that he plans to remain in office longer than expected. Kan - Japan's sixth prime minister in five years - has been under increasing pressure to step down in the wake of the disaster. Last month, he stated that he intended to hand over the reins to the younger generation of politicians once reconstruction efforts showed progress and radiation leaks had been plugged at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

It has been predicted Kan will stand aside when the current parliamentary session closed at the end of next month.

Jiang Lifeng , a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Japanese Studies, said talk of an October visit to China did not necessarily mean Kan seriously expected to hold onto office until then.

'It all depends on what title he plans to visit under,' Jiang said, adding that 'Kan is facing so many domestic difficulties, I think he will do very well to last even to the end of August.'

Liu said that even if there was a change of leadership in Japan within the next month or two, a prime minister-level visit to China could be expected before the end of the year.

Despite the Japanese foreign minister's visit, Sino-Japanese relations remain on a knife-edge.

A Chinese fisheries patrol vessel arrived off the Diaoyu Islands at about 6am yesterday, Kyodo reported. It was the 10th time a Chinese patrol vessel had entered the disputed waters since September. Also, the fishing association on Japan's Yaeyama Islands, east of Taiwan, said 10 vessels had set out from the area to fish in waters near the Diaoyus. One of the boats was owned by 'a certain political group' in Japan.