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China-Japan relations

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to head to Japan on summit mission

Envoy expected to smooth the way for top-level talks in coming months

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2018, 8:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2018, 11:02am

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Japan from Sunday in a further sign of warming ties between the two countries and as Beijing and Tokyo prepare for higher-level diplomatic exchanges next month. 

The three-day trip by Wang, who was elevated to state councillor last month, would revive a long-stalled bilateral economic dialogue and pave the way for Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s first official visit to Japan next month, the foreign ministry announced on Wednesday.  

Li will attend the China-Japan-South Korea summit, which has been suspended since 2015, amid speculation about possible exchanges in the coming months between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Sino-Japanese relations have been plagued by a long-running territorial dispute in the East China Sea over the Diaoyu Islands, known as Senkaku Islands in Japan, a row that intensified after the Japanese government effectively put them under its control in September 2012.

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Tensions began to ease late last year when Abe signalled his desire for improved relations and expressed a wish to visit China. He also invited Xi and Li to Japan.  

After Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono visited Beijing in January, Li indicated during last month’s National People’s Congress, China’s biggest annual political event, that he might attend the trilateral summit. 

The annual summit was first held in 2008 but strains between the three East Asian neighbours, especially Beijing’s opposition to Seoul’s deployment of a US-led anti-ballistic missile system, put the talks on ice. 

Japan’s top envoy breaks the ice, but China sees ties as ‘still cool’

If things go well, it could pave the way for Premier Li’s visit, and also signify a reset of relations
Zhou Yongsheng, China Foreign Affairs University

Wang, who is making his second trip to Tokyo in two years, will also chair a high-level bilateral economic dialogue with Kono.  

Zhou Yongsheng, a professor specialising in Sino-Japanese relations at China Foreign Affairs University, said the Wang-Kono meeting would be the last official talks between China and Japan ahead of the proposed trilateral summit. 

“If things go well, it could pave the way for Premier Li’s visit, and also signify a reset of relations,” Zhou said. 

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Beijing-based analyst Lu Yaodong agreed that final preparations for the summit would be Wang’s top priority. 

“With China and Japan the second- and third-biggest economies in the world, and South Korea also a strong regional economic power, having a smooth and constructive trilateral meeting for all three parties is extremely important for the region,” Lu said. 

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Japan needs to acknowledge that it is now in a difficult diplomatic position because it is sticking too closely to the US
Zhou Yongsheng

Apart from building trade and economic ties, Wang was also expected to meet Abe and hold talks with national security adviser Shotaro Yachi, Japanese government sources told Kyodo News. 

Zhou said Wang would use the chance to temper “Japan’s strong stand against North Korea, and ask them to persuade the US to do the same”. 

Abe will visit the United States on April 17-20 for talks with US President Donald Trump, ahead of his proposed groundbreaking summit with North Korea’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-un.

Not wanting to feel left out, Japan PM Shinzo Abe also wants to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

The summit, and especially North Korea’s agreement to discuss denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, is seen as a chance to ease heightened tensions in Northeast Asia, which has been on the brink of a dangerous nuclear stand-off over Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear provocations. 

“Japan needs to acknowledge that it is now in a difficult diplomatic position because it is sticking too closely to the US,” Zhou said.

“If it wants to appear as a core player on issues like North Korea, the upcoming meeting with China will be a chance for them to do that, and for them to consider rebalancing relations with China and the US, instead of siding with the US in everything it does.”