Japan and China are gearing up to resume high-level economic dialogue later this month after a hiatus of more than seven years, sources close to bilateral relations said Saturday.
The parley, to be held in Japan, is likely to be timed to coincide with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s envisaged visit around April 15, the sources said.
The last such dialogue was held in Beijing in August 2010, and it is hoped that a resumption of the dialogue will help deepen a strategic, mutually beneficial relationship between the countries as they mark the 40th anniversary this year of their peace and friendship treaty, they said.
The government has judged that it should pursue a closer relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose recent re-election to a second five-year term as president solidified his grip on power.
Using the May trilateral summit of Japan, China and South Korea as leverage, Tokyo hopes to get a visit to China by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe done by the end of the year and an early one by Xi to Japan to bolster bilateral relations.
For its part, China is apparently eager to drum up Japanese support for its cross-border “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure initiative under a policy of improving ties with Tokyo.
Beijing is also perceived to be interested in getting Japan on its side amid rising tensions over trade issues with the United States.
According to the sources, Japan accepted overtures from China earlier this month to restart economic dialogue on such issues as trade and investment.
The talks would most likely be co-chaired by Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Wang. Other ministers in charge of economic issues from both countries, including Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko, are also expected to take part.
During the parley, Tokyo will seek to share the view with Beijing that its “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy” and China’s belt and road project can coexist, and that both can work together to improve infrastructure across Asia, the sources said.
With the United States’ import restrictions on steel and aluminum in mind, the talks could also highlight the importance of free trade.
The high-level economic dialogue, launched in December 2007, has been put on ice since its third session in Beijing seven and a half years ago.
Tokyo, Beijing and even Taiwan have for years been mired in a territorial dispute in the East China Sea over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, which China claims as Diaoyu and Taiwan as Tiaoyutai.
They have also been at loggerheads over China’s military buildup in contested parts of the South China Sea, with Japan arguing that disputes must be resolved according to international law and that freedom of navigation must be maintained.
China has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea.
Japan does not border the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which over one-third of global trade passes, but relies on shipping channels in the waters.