China Premier Li to visit Hokkaido as Sino-Japan ties warm up
Leader expected to join a conference involving local political chiefs on first official visit to Japan by a Chinese premier since 2011
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expected to visit Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido next month, in a sign of warming relations between Asia’s two biggest economies.
Li is expected to attend a trilateral summit in Tokyo with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts early next month before heading north to join local political leaders for a conference.
Li will be the first Chinese premier to make an official trip to Japan since Wen Jiabao visited in 2011. During his trip, Wen visited Fukushima prefecture and other areas hit by the deadly earthquake and tsunami in March that year.
The last time a Chinese leader or a government head visited Hokkaido, a popular destination for Chinese tourists, was in 2008 when then president Hu Jintao attended an international summit.
Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin, also visited Hokkaido in 1998 as China’s state leader and offered a piece of calligraphy calling on the two countries to be good neighbours.
Jiang Yuechun, a Japan specialist at the China Institute of International Studies, said many non-governmental cultural and arts from Hokkaido had fostered goodwill and close ties with people in China despite a chill in official relations between the two countries.
“Hokkaido has traditionally had close exchanges with China,” Jiang Yuechun said.
He also said it was a positive gesture for Li to visit a relatively “remote” place and to have direct contact with the Japanese people.
Li, who was reappointed to a second five-year term as China’s head of government last month, was also expected to deliver a speech at an event in the Japanese capital to mark the 40th anniversary of the signing of a friendship treaty between Beijing and Tokyo, diplomatic sources said.
Li was heading to Japan as an official working guest at the invitation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, a step down from a state guest or official guest, but an audience with Emperor Akihito was expected to be included in his itinerary, the sources said.
“Emperor Akihito is a pacifist and for a Chinese leader to pay tribute to him before his abdication next year would be of both historical and practical meaning,” Jiang said.
Li was expected to attend the trilateral summit with Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the morning of May 9 and hold bilateral talks with Abe in the afternoon, the sources said.
The two leaders might agree on the implementation of a “Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism” in the East China Sea.
The mechanism is aimed at avoiding unintended clashes in the contentious body of water, where China challenges the sovereignty of the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islets called the Diaoyus in Beijing.
On May 10, Li was expected to take part in a reception, hosted by business leaders in Tokyo, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two nations, the sources said.
Li was likely to visit Hokkaido on May 11 and return to China the same day, as May 12 would mark the 10th anniversary of the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, they said.
Additional reporting by Kyodo