China-Japan relations

Improving but still fragile: China’s Li Keqiang strikes balanced line on ties after meeting Japanese envoy

Premier urges Tokyo to build on momentum of improving relations as he meets Shotaro Yachi, a key adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 August, 2016, 2:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 4:55pm

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday ties between China and Japan “remain fragile” even though they have shown signs of improvement.

Li made the remarks in a meeting with Shotaro Yachi, a key adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is in Beijing to pave the way for Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping to meet next month.

Li called for Japan to properly manage differences with China and to push for cooperation and exchanges to consolidate the momentum of improving Sino-Japanese ties.

Turning down the heat: China and Japan agree to cool tensions over the East China Sea

In a letter presented by Yachi to Li, Abe wrote that Japan was willing to build stable relations with China based on the principle of mutually beneficial strategic ties, state-run CCTV reported.

Yachi’s three-day visit until Friday comes as the two countries try to create momentum for Abe and Xi to meet on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 20 in Hangzhou early next month.

China is locked in territorial disputes with Japan over a group of islands in the East China Sea – called the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China. Japan controls the islands.

The two nations had heated exchanges in recent weeks after China sent more than 200 government and fishing vessels into waters near the islands.

In an earlier meeting, Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi said he wanted to “solve various problems” with Japan. “To improve China-Japan relations, I would like to have heart-to-heart discussions with you,” Yang told Yachi at the outset of their meeting in Beijing.

The foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea ended their trilateral talks in ­Tokyo on Wednesday.

Why are Chinese vessels sailing off the Diaoyus? According to Beijing’s envoy, they’re after ‘big fish’

At a meeting with Abe in Tokyo on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the talks, which were held when the three countries were ex­periencing “difficulties in their ­relations”, had maintained the momentum for their cooperation, Xinhua reported.

While the recent high-profile interaction between China and Japan has paved the way for possible meetings between Abe and Xi, a Chinese observer said Beijing had doubts on Japan’s “sincerity” about mending ties.

Awkward contortions as China moves to shore up its position on South China Sea

“The meeting [between Yachi and Yang] is to remind Japan to go back to the four-point consensus, which was signed between the two during their meeting in 2014,” said Lu Yaodong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The consensus involves agreements to acknowledge that “different positions exist” over the East China Sea disputes and that the two countries will prevent the situation from escalating through dialogue, consultation and crisis management mechanisms.

Additional reporting by Kyodo