China has told Japan it wants to examine the contents of a statement to be issued this summer by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, before deciding when to hold a trilateral summit involving South Korea, diplomatic sources said Monday.
China’s position poses a difficulty for Abe, who is aiming to build on a recent thaw in bilateral relations without alienating his conservative support base in Japan.
Beijing’s stance that it needs to scrutinize the upcoming statement raises the likelihood that a meeting between Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will not take place until after this summer.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi may take up the issue when they gather in Seoul later this week for a trilateral foreign ministerial meeting.
The sources said Beijing had requested through multiple channels by Monday that four basic documents regarding bilateral ties, including the 1998 Japan-China joint declaration, be upheld.
The Chinese side has conveyed its stance that it would be difficult to hold a trilateral summit before confirming that the Japanese leader holds “a correct view of history,” the sources said.
The 1998 joint declaration, released by then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and then Chinese President Jian Zemin, states that Japan is aware of the damage done to Chinese people through its aggression, and upholds the Murayama statement issued in 1995 by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, offering apologies for Japan’s wartime aggression in Asia.
The other three documents are the 1972 Japan-China joint communique that normalized bilateral ties, the treaty of peace and friendship in 1978, and the 2008 joint statement on promoting a “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests,” the sources said.
Japan is seeking to hold a trilateral summit as early as April and one-on-one talks between Abe and Li. But one of the sources in Tokyo said Beijing is apparently trying to take advantage of the Abe statement as a “diplomatic card.”
The leaders of Japan, China and South Korea have yet to meet under the trilateral framework since 2012 amid Japan’s differences with the two countries over territory and perceptions of history.
China is believed to have told Japan during a meeting of senior foreign affairs officials on March 11 that a trilateral summit is unlikely before the release of Abe’s statement.
Ahead of the 70th anniversary on Aug. 15, a panel of experts was set up in February to advise Abe on the forthcoming statement.
Abe has said he will retain “as a whole” the Murayama statement.
One focus is whether Abe will use the term “aggression,” which could be a criterion used by Beijing to assess the statement, the sources said.