China-Japan relations

Japan tipped to ask China to revive reciprocal summits

Visits stalled amid row over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 11:36am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 11:36am

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono is expected to call on China to resume reciprocal visits by the two countries’ leaders, a Japanese government official said, with bilateral relations showing signs of improvement despite a lingering territorial dispute.

Kono, who arrived in Beijing on Saturday, is scheduled to meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and State Councillor Yang Jiechi, the nation’s top diplomat, as the two nations mark the 40th anniversary of the signing of a peace and friendship treaty.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping have yet to exchange official visits due to the row over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea that Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyus.

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During the meetings in Beijing, Kono, was also aiming to make arrangements with China to hold as soon as possible a trilateral summit also involving South Korea, which Tokyo wanted to host last year, the foreign ministry official said.

North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear ambitions are also likely to be on the agenda, as Japan has asked China to exercise leverage over Pyongyang and play a key role in realising denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

Kono is visiting China for the first time as foreign minister. His trip is the also first by a Japanese foreign minister since his predecessor, Fumio Kishida, visited in April 2016.

Kono, meanwhile, may lodge a protest over the entry of a submerged Chinese submarine into the contiguous zone around Japanese territorial waters near the Senkakus earlier this month.

Tokyo and Beijing have been mired in a territorial row over the Senkakus for years. The dispute escalated particularly after the Japanese government led by then prime minister Yoshiko Noda, Abe’s predecessor, decided to effectively put them under state control in September 2012.

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But relations appear to be improving after Abe and Xi bolstered their domestic power bases late last year.

South Korea was the previous host of the trilateral summit in 2015. Tokyo is due to host the next one, but a plan to hold it in 2016 was dropped against a backdrop of political turmoil in South Korea.

The three countries have been rotating summit-hosting duties since 2008, although the gatherings were not held in 2013 and 2014 after a chill in Japan-China relations over the territorial row.

The summit would bring Li to Japan for the first time since he became premier in 2013.

Kono is slated to return to Tokyo early Monday.