National / Politics

Kishida talks with Chinese premier sought during Beijing trip but territorial tensions may get in way

Kyodo

Japan has sounded out China about talks between Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang when the minister visits Beijing later this month, in the hope that the meeting with the country’s No. 2 leader would advance bilateral ties, a government source said Thursday.

Beijing has yet to respond to Tokyo’s request and is likely to make a final decision following the outcome of Kishida’s talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on April 30, during which they may have heated debate on China’s muscle-flexing in the South China Sea, the source said.

The Kishida-Wang talks will follow Beijing’s strong reaction to a Group of Seven foreign ministers’ statement issued earlier in the month that touched on high tensions in the South China Sea.

China lodged protests with the G-7 countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — on April 12, a day after their top diplomats released the statement following their annual meeting in Hiroshima.

The G-7 ministers, without mentioning China by name, said they are opposed to “any intimidating, coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions” in regional waters.

They also urged all countries “to refrain from such actions as land reclamations including large-scale ones, building of outposts, as well as their use for military purposes and to act in accordance with international law” in their statement on maritime security.

In addition to the South China Sea issue, Kishida is expected to seek cooperation from Wang in holding a Japan-China ministerial-level economic dialogue as well as a trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting between Japan, China and South Korea, to be chaired by Tokyo.

Japan and China have agreed to resume at an early date high-level economic talks, which were last held in 2010, but the meeting has yet to be realized, apparently due to their differences in views over the South China Sea.

When Kishida last visited Beijing in November 2014, he could not arrange a meeting with a high-ranking Chinese official in the leadership.

Following his visit to China, Kishida will also go on to travel to the four states of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, namely Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.

In Myanmar, he will meet with the country’s democracy icon and state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi, who joined the new Cabinet as foreign minister and minister of the presidential office, and ask her to visit Japan at an early date, the source said.

In the talks, Kishida is also likely to express Tokyo’s intention to support infrastructure construction in Myanmar through its official development assistance. Tokyo hopes to strengthen ties with the Southeast Asian country rich with natural gas and other resources.

In Vietnam, which is embroiled in territorial spats with China in the South China Sea, Kishida is expected to reaffirm the importance of the rule of law at sea, the source said.

Kishida is also eager to promote cooperation with Laos, the chair of ASEAN this year, and Thailand on the South China Sea issue, the source added.

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, a key international shipping route that is also believed to be rich in oil and natural gas deposits as well as fisheries resources.

Despite strong opposition from smaller Asian claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam, and a number of other nonclaimant countries, China has pressed forward with its rapid and massive island-building strategy to assert its sovereignty.

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