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Prime Minister Taro Aso’s plan to visit Beijing this month has been postponed until April or later.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura declined comment on media reports that the delay was due to the long-standing territorial dispute, saying, “It is true that the territorial and other disputes are sensitive issues on both sides.”

The two governments had reportedly been discussing final arrangements for Aso to visit the Chinese capital for two days from March 28, during which he was to hold talks with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

“As part of the shuttle diplomacy and especially amid the current global economic conditions, we have been arranging with the Chinese side for a summit as early as possible, but it is my understanding that it would be difficult to realize it in March,” Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said.

Aside from the Beijing visit, Aso is likely to meet Chinese leaders on the sidelines of international conferences next month, including the April 2 financial summit in London and summits related to the April 10-12 Association of Southeast Asian Nations gathering in the Thai resort of Pattaya, Foreign Ministry officials said earlier.

Beijing has expressed distrust in Aso in connection with the Japan-controlled islets, known in Japan as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu, following his recent remarks that they are Japanese territory and fall under the security alliance with the United States.

The uninhabited islets are claimed by China, Japan and Taiwan.

When they meet, Aso and the Chinese leaders are expected to discuss rising tensions amid North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats,Japan-China joint gas exploration in disputed areas in the East China Sea, and unresolved food-poisoning cases in Japan caused by tainted dumplings imported from China.

Japan and China agreed last May on reciprocal visits by both countries’ leaders. Nakasone and Wen agreed in late February in Beijing to arrange for Aso’s early visit to China.

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