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(L-R)Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Photo: EPA-EFE/AFP

Tokyo seeks ‘constructive and stable’ relations with China as it pushes for Fumio Kishida-Xi Jinping meeting

  • Tokyo is seeking to arrange a meeting between Fumio Kishida and China’s Xi Jinping on the sidelines of two diplomatic gatherings this month
  • Sino-Japanese ties have been plagued by regional tensions, and a dispute over a group of tiny uninhabited islands that both Tokyo and Beijing claim
Japan and China are attempting to arrange a leaders summit this month, potentially on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Indonesia next week or at the subsequent two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering in Thailand from November 18.
The impetus for what would be the first meeting of the two nations’ leaders since December 2019 is understood to have largely come from Japan, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expected to underline the importance of “constructive and stable” relations between Tokyo and Beijing, in this the 50th year of normalising diplomatic ties.
There are, however, still a number of deep divisions between the governments and both Beijing’s claims to Taiwan and the Japanese-held Senkaku islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China, are likely to be up for discussion.


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Kishida is expected to request that Xi Jinping resolve issues involving Taiwan through dialogue rather than military confrontation, with Japan deeply concerned at the aggressive response of Beijing after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in early August.
Xi also reiterated his commitment to bringing Taiwan under Beijing’s control at the Communist Party’s Congress in October, during which he stated that mainland China will, “Never promise to renounce the use of force and we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary” to assume control of the self-ruled island.

Beijing sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be brought under its control, by force if necessary. Most countries, including Japan, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state but oppose any attempt to take the island by force.

Conservatives in Japan are concerned, however, that Kishida may not be firm with Xi on matters that impact national and regional security.


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Diaoyu-Senkaku islands spat deepens as Japan warns China over coastguard ships in East China Sea
“In the past, former prime minister [Shinzo] Abe reiterated every time that he met Xi that the Chinese leadership should absolutely not misunderstand the resolve of the Japanese people to defend the Senkakus,” said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University.

“My concern is that [if] Kishida does not make that position very clear, that Xi might sense that the Senkakus are not as important to Tokyo as they were under Abe and he could see that as a weakness.”

The situation surrounding Taiwan is similar, he suggested, adding that Kishida must make it clear to his Chinese counterpart that as the most southerly islands of Okinawa Prefecture are only around 100km from Taiwan, any military action against the island will “inevitably” involve Japan.

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Shimada also hopes that Kishida will impart the message that any unilateral actions against Japanese companies with facilities or operations in China would only serve to damage corporate trust in China and harm both economies.

Other analysts, however, are far more optimistic about how any bilateral meeting might pan out and the potential for positive developments far beyond northeast Asia.

“I am rather optimistic for these talks, if they do go ahead, because they could serve as a very constructive foundation for more going forward,” said Yakov Zinberg, a professor of international relations at Tokyo’s Kokushikan University.

“The two governments appear to want to build bridges and I’m sure that the US will have a strong interest in that happening as well,” he said. “In fact, I would not be at all surprised if the original initiative for the idea of a summit came from Washington as it looks to improve the situation in the Far East.”
If the two sides were just going to get bogged down in discussions on those two issues [Taiwan, Diaoyu Islands], there would be no point in Kishida and Xi meeting
Yakov Zinberg, Kokushikan University

And Zinberg says he expects the thorny issues of Taiwan and the Diaoyu Islands to be “simply ignored” in the interests of improving relations.

“They want to work on the bigger picture and if the two sides were just going to get bogged down in discussions on those two issues, there would be no point in Kishida and Xi meeting,” he said.

But there is another very significant potential outcome of the meeting, he suggested.

“I see this as an attempt to find some kind of resolution to the Ukraine conflict,” he said. “We could see a joint effort by China and Japan to work on a peace initiative that would work for both sides in the war as third-parties.”
Japan can shoulder that task as, while it has contributed to international sanctions on Russia for its aggression, Moscow has been relatively uncritical of Tokyo and the two governments are still working together on the Sakhalin II energy project, he pointed out.
And while China has nominally backed Russia’s purported aims, it has stopped short of providing material assistance and would welcome an end to the war, Zinberg suggested.