China-Japan relations

China's Xi meets Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party No. 2 man Toshihiro Nikai

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 May, 2017, 11:49am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 May, 2017, 11:49am

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday told a high-ranking Japanese lawmaker who represented the country at a forum promoting Beijing’s ambitious Silk Road development project that he wants to improve bilateral relations.

While noting that China and Japan face challenges, Xi said there are also many new opportunities and that he wants to move bilateral relations in “the right direction.”

The meeting in Beijing between Xi and Toshihiro Nikai, the No. 2 man in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was held a day after the Chinese president concluded the two-day international forum aimed at outlining his vision of expanding economic connectivity with countries along the ancient Silk Road and beyond.

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It comes at a time when the leaders of Asia’s two biggest economies are still experiencing difficulties in building mutual trust, despite this year marking the 45th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations.

Nikai, who brought Xi a personal letter from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is one of the few veteran LDP lawmakers to have developed good relations with China.

At the outset of the meeting, Xi thanked Nikai for his participation and Japan’s interest in the belt and road initiative, under which China is planning to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in a vast infrastructure network in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

In May 2015, Nikai brought a Japanese delegation of about 3,000 people to an event at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People that was aimed at promoting friendly cooperation between the two countries, during which Xi appeared as a surprise guest.

Still, since then there has been no dramatic improvement in Sino-Japanese relations, which have been affected by territorial and historical issues intricately intertwined with their regional rivalry.

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Chinese officials have said one of the best ways to advance the difficult relationship is for Japan to face the reality of China’s rise and support major initiatives led by the world’s second-largest economy, such as joining the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank.

Nikai has said Japan should be part of the infrastructure bank, which was launched early last year following a proposal by Xi in 2013.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said on Tuesday that there was no change in the government’s stance that Tokyo would carefully watch the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s operations.

The Nikkei newspaper reported earlier that a senior Japanese ruling party official had signalled Tokyo’s readiness to join the AIIB, saying it was crucial to reach a decision soon.