Contrary to earlier media reports and speculation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not visit China in early September, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday.
Abe has decided not to go, apparently fearing that his visit might be used for China’s anti-Japan propaganda campaign.
On Sept. 3, Beijing plans to hold a military parade to mark 70 years since the end of what it calls the “War of Resistance Against Japan.”
Chinese officials have unofficially invited Abe to attend the ceremony. In response, Abe was reportedly exploring ways to visit Beijing and meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at that time.
“Prime Minister Abe won’t attend the ceremony to be organized by China on Sept. 3. He has made the decision considering the situation of the Diet and other factors,” Suga told a regular news conference.
Suga also denied that Abe plans to go to China a few days before or after the ceremony.
At a Diet committee session later on Monday, Abe said he made the decision “based on the situation in the Diet,” likely referring to a pair of security bills being debated in the Upper House.
Abe has been criticized as a nationalist who could raise tensions with China and South Korea. In an effort to counter that criticism, Abe has taken a relatively low-profile stance in dealing with China in recent months and was trying to schedule summit talks with Xi, which would help Abe claim credit for improving troubled Sino-Japanese ties.
Since his inauguration in December 2012, Abe has met Xi for brief one-on-one meetings twice.
During Monday’s news conference, Suga said Abe will continue trying to meet with Xi to improve bilateral ties.
“We will keep trying to create an opportunity for the top leaders to frankly talk to each other,” Suga also said.
Asked if Abe’s decision will adversely affect bilateral relations, Suga said he does not believe so.
“There’s no doubt the Japan-China relationship is on the road to recovery after (Abe and Xi) met twice in a summit meeting,” Suga said, adding that Abe will keep seeking opportunities to meet with Xi on the sidelines of major international conferences.
Beijing has invited dozens of leaders to the military parade and the ensuing reception.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korean President Park Geun-hye are expected to attend those events, but many Western leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, will not.
On Monday a high-ranking Japanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tokyo consulted with some Western officials before Abe made his decision.
In July, Shotaro Yachi, a close aide to Abe and head of the secretariat of the National Security Council, visited Beijing and met with several top Chinese officials.
As Abe’s top envoy, Yachi was believed to have discussed conditions for Abe’s tentative visit to Beijing.