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China-Japan relations

Japan’s top envoy Taro Kono lands in Beijing aiming to improve strained ties

Reciprocal visits by the two nations’ leaders and postponed trilateral summit expected to be on the agenda, along with Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 7:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 January, 2018, 11:10pm

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono arrived in Beijing on Saturday – the first visit by a top envoy from the country for nearly two years – as the two sides try to improve strained ties in the year they mark the 40th anniversary of a peace and friendship treaty.

Japan has been hoping to arrange reciprocal visits by the two nations’ leaders, though China is less enthusiastic about the proposal. Kono is likely to bring up the topic during talks on Sunday with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, the country’s top diplomat, and a member of its senior leadership.

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He is also aiming to promote arrangements with China to hold as soon as possible a postponed trilateral summit involving South Korea, the Japanese foreign ministry said.

The trip is Kono’s first to China as foreign minister and the first by a Japanese foreign minister since his predecessor Fumio Kishida visited in April 2016.

North Korea’s missile and nuclear ambitions are also likely to be on the agenda during the meetings, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe having repeatedly called for China to fully implement UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang.

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With regard to the disputed Diaoyu Islands, or Senkaku, in the East China Sea, Kono may touch on the entry of a submerged Chinese naval submarine into the contiguous zone around Japanese territorial waters near the uninhabited islets earlier this month.

For years, Tokyo and Beijing have been mired in a territorial row over the Senkakus, called Diaoyu in China. The dispute escalated after the Japanese government led by former prime minister Yoshihiko Noda, Abe’s predecessor, decided to purchase most of the islands from a private Japanese owner and put them under state control in 2012.

Kono, meanwhile, is seeking to reach an accord during his visit on a bilateral social security agreement that would eliminate dual pension payments by Japanese expats in China and vice versa.

He plans to return to Tokyo early on Monday.

Additional reporting by Staff Reporter