China tells Japan to reaffirm strategic relations in rare leader talks


Chinese President Xi Jinping told Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that Asia’s two largest economies should reaffirm their strategic relationship in their first face-to-face talks in a year that look to put a floor under strained ties.

The remarks, reported by Chinese state media, came at the start of talks on the sidelines of the APEC summit in San Francisco on Thursday evening.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss the creation of a new dialogue framework on export control issues and fostering a safe business environment, Japanese media reported.

The countries should “focus on common interests and properly handle differences,” Mr. Xi told Mr. Kishida as they sat across from one another at a table flanked by their delegations.

China and Japan should reaffirm their “strategic relationship of mutual benefit and give it new meaning”, he added.

In a joint statement in 2008, Japan and China agreed to pursue a “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests” designed to ensure frequent leadership exchanges on issues such as security.

But the phrasing has been used less frequently in recent years as the historic rivals have clashed over a series of issues such as territorial disputes, trade tensions and Taiwan, the democratic island near Japan that Beijing claims as its own.

Most recently, ties have been tested by China‘s ban on Japanese seafood following Tokyo’s decision to release treated water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea in August.

Mr. Kishida plans to call for the reversal of China‘s ban and will also insist on the early release of Japanese nationals arrested by Chinese authorities, while global issues like the conflict in Gaza are also expected to be on the agenda, Japanese media reported.

In brief remarks at the start of the meeting, Mr. Kishida told Mr. Xi: “Japan and China coexist and prosper as neighbors and have a responsibility to contribute to world peace and prosperity.”

Their meeting followed a highly-anticipated summit between US President Joe Biden and Mr. Xi in which the two superpowers agreed to open a presidential hotline and resume military-to-military communications, among other matters.

Mr. Kishida also met Mr. Biden at the summit where they discussed issues including “common challenges” that they share with China.

China‘s push to reaffirm relations with Japan could be partly driven by Tokyo’s close ties with its arch-rival Washington, said Rumi Aoyama, an expert on Japan–China relations.

“I think there is a desire to drive a wedge between Japan and the United States by establishing a so-called strategic relationship with Japan amid the US-China confrontation,” said Aoyama, director of Waseda Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies.

On the sidelines of the APEC summit, Mr. Kishida has also met South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in their seventh meeting this year. The pair promised to push for deeper cooperation and discussed shared concerns like North Korea’s missile tests.

Mr. Yoon, Mr. Kishida and Mr. Biden also held a brief trilateral meeting on Thursday.

Leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum are in San Francisco for the 30th summit from Nov. 15-17. – Reuters

Jino Nicolas

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