Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Sunday in Vietnam with a Taiwanese politician, hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping warned him not to break with the past consensus on what Beijing regards as a renegade province.
Abe held a 30-minute meeting with James Soong, head of the People First Party and Taiwan’s special envoy to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting, on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam, according to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo.
After meeting with Soong, Abe left Vietnam later in the day, flying to Manila where he was scheduled to meet with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The meeting with Soong risks creating a backlash from China even as Abe says he wants deeper cooperation on the threat posed by North Korea. In a summit with Xi on Saturday night, Abe received no clear response to a proposal that he visit China next year to mark the 40th anniversary of a friendship treaty.
Ties between China and Japan are less hostile than when Abe took office five years ago amid anger over the Senkaku Islands territorial dispute. He hasn’t succeeded in taking the chill off relations with Japan’s biggest trading partner.
In their meeting, Abe told Soong that Taiwan is an important partner with shared values and close economic ties. Both sides agreed there has been progress over the past year and Abe said he looks forward to further strengthening ties, while maintaining the unofficial nature of the relationship.
On Saturday Xi told Abe that the stable development of China-Japan ties is in the interests of both countries and that both sides should “work tirelessly to create conditions for the continued improvement of Sino-Japanese relations,” according to remarks published on the People’s Daily’s web portal.
“The key to improved Sino-Japanese relations lies in mutual trust,” Xi told Abe, urging Japan to deal with questions over history and Taiwan according to the consensus already reached by the two sides.
In March, China’s foreign ministry said it lodged a “serious” protest with Japan after Jiro Akama, vice minister of internal affairs and communications, attended a cultural exchange meeting in Taiwan.
On Jan. 1, Japan changed the name of its mission in Taipei to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, which could be seen as implying state-to-state relations.
The statement by the Japanese Foreign Ministry referred to Taiwan as Chinese Taipei in line with diplomatic protocol.