• Kyodo

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China said Tuesday that it welcomes Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s interest in cooperating with Beijing’s initiative of trying to build closer economic links along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes.

“We believe the One Belt, One Road initiative can be a new platform and a testing field for China and Japan to achieve mutually beneficial cooperation and common development,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a news briefing, referring to the project by its official name.

“We welcome Japan to explore cooperation with China under the framework,” she said, a day after Abe said Japan is prepared to contribute to the initiative if certain conditions are met.

At a forum on Asia’s future in Tokyo, Abe said the plan put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping has the “potential to connect East and West as well as the diverse regions found in between.”

But for Japan to join the initiative, Abe said it is “critical for infrastructure to be open to use by all and to be developed through procurement that is transparent and fair.”

“I furthermore consider it essential for projects to be economically viable and to be financed by debt that can be repaid, and not to harm the soundness of the debtor nation’s finances,” Abe said.

While U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist inclinations have injected additional uncertainty into the world economy, Xi has sought to represent China as a new champion of globalization.

To promote his ambitious Silk Road economic vision, Xi hosted a large-scale meeting last month in Beijing, attended by nearly 30 leaders and representatives from over 100 countries, and pledged China’s readiness to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure projects in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Still, doubts remain strong in Japan and numerous other countries about the initiative’s real objective. Critics believe it is chiefly designed to help China enlarge its sphere of influence and create new sources of growth for its own economy through building a vast network of infrastructure, such as fuel pipelines, ports, railways and roads.

Hua cautioned Japan and other countries not to have groundless fears about the initiative, insisting that it is inclusive and that the Chinese government is committed to working with them to build “fair” and “transparent” rules of international trade and investment.

She said China hopes Japan will translate its will to improve bilateral ties into concrete policies and actions.

Despite being much better now than several years ago, Sino-Japanese relations remain fragile due to territorial and historical issues intricately intertwined with their regional rivalry.

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