BEIJING – A meeting Wednesday between former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing was a positive step for repairing strained bilateral ties, the Abe administration said.
“To have a meeting like that is a good thing,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Thursday, though he also said he had not yet been informed of the details.
“Since May, our ministers — of industry, transport and foreign affairs, as well as recently Deputy Prime Minister (Taro) Aso — have held talks with Chinese officials,” Suga said. “The leaders of the world’s second- and third-largest economies should meet.”
Fukuda met with Xi less than two weeks ahead of a gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders in Beijing where there is speculation the leaders of Japan and China may try to take a step toward thawing icy bilateral relations.
As chairman of the Boao Forum for Asia, Fukuda sat next to Xi during a meeting along with other board members of the nongovernmental organization, which hosts a conference of business leaders every year in China that has been likened to Asia’s version of the annual Davos conference in Switzerland.
Fukuda and Xi greeted each other with a handshake at the outset of the meeting in the Great Hall of the People.
Fukuda, meeting Xi for the second time in three months, told him on behalf of the forum’s board of directors that China plays a “big role” in the international community because its economy is continuously expanding and Asia’s presence as a whole is rising, according to a source who witnessed the meeting.
In late July, Fukuda had a secret meeting with Xi during which he suggested that to repair soured ties, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first official talks with the president should be held on the margins of the gathering of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Diplomats have discussed the possibility of arranging a formal meeting between Abe and Xi at or around the APEC summit from Nov. 10 to 11.
However, China’s position remains that Xi will not accept official talks with Abe unless the Japanese government acknowledges a dispute over the sovereignty of a group of small islands in the East China Sea and Abe issues a guarantee that he will not visit Yasukuni, the controversial war shrine in Tokyo, according to officials with knowledge of the negotiations.
Despite the difficulties, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso told Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli a week ago that an Abe-Xi meeting would benefit both countries.
Relations between the two countries have been frosty in recent years due to differences over the Japan-controlled, China-claimed islands and Beijing’s dissatisfaction with Tokyo’s way of dealing with its past militarism.
Abe’s visit last December to Yasukuni Shrine, which includes the names of Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals in 1948, aggravated the situation.
On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China thinks all officials coming to Beijing for the APEC summit are “guests” and Beijing will fulfill its duties as the hosting country.