BEIJING – Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida held formal talks Saturday with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, to make last-minute arrangements for a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping at this week’s APEC summit in Beijing.
The discussions between Kishida and Wang took place in the day in the Chinese capital, where the two-day gathering of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will begin Monday.
Tokyo and Beijing have not held official foreign ministerial-level talks since September 2012 amid bilateral relations poisoned by territorial and historical disputes.
Kishida said he agreed with Wang to boost bilateral cooperation by working toward the resumption of “various” high-level talks.
“I believe this meeting served as an important opportunity to change gears to put Japan and China back on the path of normal relations,” Kishida told reporters after the meeting.
As part of steps to help improve bilateral ties, the Foreign Ministry said in Tokyo later in the day that Japan will relax the screening of visa applications from individual Chinese tourists, adding, however, that specifics have yet to be decided.
Kishida’s meeting with Wang involved a series of behind-the-scenes negotiations by senior Japanese and Chinese government officials in the run-up to the regional economic summit.
Most recently, Abe’s key foreign policy adviser, Shotaro Yachi, held talks with leading Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi on Thursday in Beijing.
Tokyo has called for Abe-Xi discussions to begin at the APEC summit without any preconditions. Beijing, for its part, has said Xi will not agree unless Japan admits a sovereignty dispute exists over the Senkaku Islands, in the East China Sea, and unless Abe promises not to make another pilgrimage to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors convicted Class-A World War II war criminals along with nation’s war dead.
Abe visited Yasukuni last December, infuriating China as well as South Korea, who view the shrine as symbolizing and glorifying Japan’s past militarism.
The Sino-Japanese relationship had already gone into a tailspin due to Tokyo’s purchase and effective nationalization of three Senkaku Islands in September 2012. The island chain is also claimed by China as Diaoyu and by Taiwan as Tiaoyutai.
Since Abe’s Yasukuni visit, Beijing’s criticism has focused more on what it perceives as his government’s attempts to play down Japan’s wartime atrocities rather than the Senkakus standoff, although maritime tensions around the uninhabited islets persist.
Kishida and Wang briefly exchanged views in person for the first time in August and again in September, both times on neutral ground at international gatherings, but those meetings were not judged to be formal.