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Chinese vice premier raps Abe, but upbeat on mending ties with Japan

Kyodo, Reuters

Vice Premier Wang Yang criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tough stance toward China in a meeting with Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe but expressed hope of improving bilateral relations.

“Japanese politicians should refrain from taking actions that would disturb cooperation between the two countries,” Masuzoe quoted Wang as telling him during a one-hour meeting Saturday.

Wang specifically mentioned Abe’s visit in December to war-related Yasukuni Shrine as the most problematic issue, said Masuzoe, who held a news conference in Beijing to wrap up his three-day visit there.

But Wang did not touch directly on other issues escalating bilateral tensions, such as the sovereignty dispute over the Senkaku Islands or the joint summit statement released Friday by Japan and the United States expressing strong concern over China’s growing regional assertiveness and confirming Washington’s obligation to come to Japan’s defense in attacks involving the isles.

Masuzoe said that he and Wang, one of four deputy premiers in China and who mainly oversee commercial affairs, agreed on the importance of promoting cordial ties between Asia’s two biggest economies through exchanges between municipalities, business organizations and students, while acknowledging it may prove difficult to resume official high-level contact soon.

Masuzoe, the first Tokyo governor invited by the Beijing city government in 18 years, said he had conveyed to Chinese leaders a verbal message from Abe that he wants relations with China to improve. He added that the prime minister was “fully supportive” of the three-day visit and is willing to improve bilateral relations.

Masuzoe said he also told Wang that if given the chance, he will brief Abe on China’s continued “severe assessment” of his administration after returning to Tokyo.

Abe’s visit to Yasukuni, a symbol of Japan’s past militarism to many Asian nations for is enshrinement of Class-A war criminals along with the nation’s war dead, infuriated China, where bitter memories of the wars still run deep. It further complicated efforts to repair ties already fraught with tensions over the Senkakus, which Tokyo controls but both Beijing and Taiwan claim.

Masuzoe said he hopes his visit can invigorate exchanges between the more than 300 Japan-China sister cities and ease bilateral mistrust.

He said China’s decision to organize the meeting with Wang, the most senior official he has met in Beijing, is “proof” the Chinese government is willing to mend bilateral relations. He added that if his visit “could help dispel misunderstanding of each other or a lack of mutual understanding in even the slightest terms, I would be most happy.”

The trip by Masuzoe, who became Tokyo governor in February with support from Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, coincided with U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan. Obama became the first U.S. president in 18 years to be welcomed by Japan as a state guest.

Abe has not managed to hold talks with Chinese leaders since taking office in December 2012, due to the Senkakus territorial clash and differing perceptions of wartime history.