BOAO, CHINA – Former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said he briefly met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday while chairing an international conference but did not speak with him about bilateral tensions.
Fukuda is chairing the Boao Forum for Asia, which has been touted as an Asian version of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The annual meeting is held on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.
Fukuda told reporters that he and other executives of the forum attended a meeting with Xi that lasted about 20 minutes and focused largely on conference issues.
“It’s not the kind of place to talk just about Japan and Japan-China relations,” Fukuda noted.
Still, the meeting offered a rare chance for high-level contact at a time when Sino-Japanese ties are being strained by the ongoing sovereignty dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Japan, which has administered the unoccupied islands for decades, inflamed the dispute by effectively nationalizing the chain last September by purchasing the islets it did not already own. China and Taiwan, which claim them as Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively, began making their claims after researchers later hinted the surrounding area might be rich in natural resources.
After their meeting, Fukuda praised a speech Xi made to the forum’s participants in which he called for settling disputes through dialogue.
Fukuda said that the two sides now need to step up diplomacy.
“I think it’s a matter of how to increase trust between leaders,” he said.
Asked if his attendance at the forum could contribute to such diplomatic efforts, Fukuda said it was hard to say.
“But in general I feel that both sides are of the mind that something needs to be done,” he said.
Fukuda, the son of a former prime minister, served in the post for a year starting in September 2007 and has been an influential figure in Japanese politics.