New envoy to China urges economic thaw

Search for mutual links of benefit sought amid Senkaku dispute

AFP-JIJI

The new ambassador to Beijing urged stronger economic ties with China in an interview broadcast Monday after the incoming prime minister pledged to mend bilateral ties strained by a bitter territorial row.

Ties between Asia’s two biggest economies have become increasingly strained over the Tokyo-controlled Senkakus, which Beijing calls Diaoyu — with neither side willing to budge after a months-long standoff.

“My mission number one is to improve the Japan-China relationship,” Masato Kitera, a career diplomat who will succeed Uichiro Niwa as ambassador to China, told NHK.

“I will explain to China’s senior officials we need to make economic ties warmer if our political relationship is cooling, as Japanese corporate activities in China are contributing to the Chinese economy,” he said.

The dispute flared badly in September after Tokyo nationalized the islets, triggering protests across China that led to boycotts or attacks on Japanese businesses and sent exports to China tumbling 14.5 percent year-on-year.

Beijing has also boycotted various events in both countries, including its decision not to send its finance minister and central bank chief to Tokyo for the IMF and World Bank meetings held in October.

Beijing sent government boats into the archipelago’s territorial waters almost every day, and upped the ante earlier this month with an air incursion, which Japan said was the first Chinese breach of its airspace since at least 1958.

“It is important to boost exchanges in various fields so as to ease bitter public sentiment against each other,” Kitera said.

His comments come after the incoming prime minister, Shinzo Abe, on Saturday also pledged to seek a thaw in ties with China as a report said he will send a special envoy on a fence-mending mission to Beijing.

Abe, who is expected to take office Wednesday, spent much of his election campaign talking tough on China and proclaimed that after his victory there could be “no negotiation” over the sovereignty of islands that both sides claim.