NAYPYITAW – Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Sunday he met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Myanmar and discussed measures to improve relations strained by disputes over territory and the perception of wartime history.
Kishida declined to reveal details of the Saturday meeting — the first by the two foreign ministers since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power in December 2012. However, Kishida is believed to have sought Wang’s cooperation in setting up talks between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, set to take place in November in Beijing.
“I exchanged views (with Wang) on how to improve relations. I met him and spoke with him for a long time,” Kishida told reporters on the sidelines of regional meetings in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw. “With this (meeting) as a starting point, we would like to promote relations with China.”
A source familiar with bilateral relations said Kishida and Wang spoke for about an hour.
Japanese delegation members called the meeting an “informal exchange of views,” not “formal talks.” Underscoring such a characterization, Wang told reporters separately that he had “unofficial contact” with Kishida.
Wang said Japan needs to show “further sincerity” to improve relations.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Wang stated Beijing’s basic positions and urged Kishida to “remove political obstacles” so the two countries can improve relations, apparently referring to demands that Japan compromise over the Senkaku Islands territorial dispute in the East China Sea and visits by Abe to Tokyo’s war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.
Observers said Wang may have decided to meet Kishida amid speculation that Abe will forgo visiting Yasukuni on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender.
Abe’s visit to Yasukuni in December last year angered China and South Korea, which view it as a symbol of Japanese militarism because the Shinto shrine honors convicted war criminals along with millions of war dead.
In late July, Abe sent a message to Xi through former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who met secretly with the Chinese president, that the two leaders should meet to repair bilateral relations, according to diplomatic sources.
Abe has sought to hold talks with Xi on the sidelines of the APEC summit, saying, “The door for dialogue is always open” and that he expects China to adopt the same stance.
The prime minister has also called on China to return to the spirit of mutually beneficial strategic relations.
But it is not known whether China will shift from its position, declining to hold a summit with Abe unless Japan recognizes the existence of a territorial dispute over the Senkakus, a group of uninhabited islets administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan, and Abe promises not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine.