Former Japanese premier Fukuda visits Beijing, may have met Xi Jinping

Japan's ex-prime minister Yasuo Fukuda held talks with President Xi Jinping when he visited Beijing last weekend in his capacity as chair of the Boao Forum for Asia

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 11:07pm

Former Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda reportedly visited Beijing on a secret mission and possibly held a meeting with President Xi Jinping last Sunday, Japanese media reported yesterday.

Fukuda was said to be in Beijing to explore the possibility of a bilateral meeting between Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan's Jiji Press quoted sources as saying.

The two leaders have failed to meet in a bilateral setting since Abe took power in late 2012. Japanese officials have said that Xi refused to meet Abe despite repeated requests.

Many analysts see a lack of high-level exchanges as a key factor for the growing crisis. They also pointed to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (Apec) to be held in Beijing in November as the nearest opportunity in sight to allow Xi and Abe to address issues bilaterally.

Jiji said Fukuda "may have" met Xi during the trip. But in Kyoto's account, the former prime minister was in Beijing to chair a Chinese government-backed international forum last Sunday. The Kyoto report did not mention whether Fukuda met with any Chinese leaders.

A spokesman for the Japanese embassy in Beijing said he was not aware of Fukuda's visit.

Last month, Abe publicly called for a meeting with Xi during the Apec summit, saying the two neighbours were "inextricably" linked and enjoyed huge trading and business ties.

According to Liang Yuxiang, a professor of Japanese studies at Peking University, Beijing is also up for the idea of a bilateral meeting during the regional event as it is now "more urgent" than ever for the two leaders to sit down and address the issues.

"After two years of probing each other's bottom line, both sides have come to accept that the other side is not likely to make any compromise. If the two leaders continue to refuse seeing each other then tension could really easily escalate into a conflict," Liang said.

The two countries are locked in a bitter dispute over islands known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. Yesterday, Japan named five isles belonging to the group, a move likely to prompt criticism from China and another claimant, Taiwan.