REUTERS – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed confidence in improving ties with China and said its relationship with Japan had returned to a “normal track,” according to a newspaper interview published Sunday.
Abe, who is expected to visit China at the end of October, was also quoted as saying he hoped to invite President Xi Jinping to Japan in the future.
His comments came amid intensifying U.S. trade pressure on Beijing and Tokyo that has raised concerns about protectionism and its impact on the global economy.
“Premier Li Keqiang visited Japan in May and the Japan-China relationship has completely returned to a normal track,” Abe told the Sankei Shimbun newspaper.
Finance Minister Taro Aso expressed similar optimism Friday, saying the current round of financial dialogue with China was “extremely good,” and that both sides agreed to maintain cooperation on macroeconomic policies and measures.
U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to impose tariffs as a key part of his economic message, singling out the U.S. auto sector’s trade deficits with Germany and Japan.
In the interview, Abe said he shared with Trump the larger goal of expanding trade and investment that would benefit both countries, but reiterated that he would not prioritize friendship over national interests in any discussions over trade.
Abe also said that any summit he holds with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un must tackle the abduction issue, which has bedevilled relations between the two countries for decades.
North Korean agents kidnapped scores of Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to help Pyongyang train its spies in the language, a sore point Tokyo says has never been adequately addressed.
“In the end, I have to meet Chairman Kim Jong Un,” Abe said, adding that he wished to “break mutual distrust” between the two countries.
But he added: “As long as we hold a meeting, the meeting must contribute to the resolution of the abduction issue”.
Tokyo and Pyongyang have long had tense relations caused by historical grievances ranging from Japan’s wartime brutalities on the Korean Peninsula to Pyongyang’s regular saber-rattling and missile tests last year that sent the weapons soaring over Japan.
Recent months have seen a remarkable diplomatic detente on the Korean Peninsula as Kim held summits with both U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.
But Tokyo fears being shut out of the negotiations on North Korea, which have proceeded at a breakneck pace in recent months, with Japan largely sitting on the sidelines.
During historic talks with Trump in Singapore, Kim reportedly said he was open to a meeting with Abe.
Trump promised to work to help bring Japan’s abductees home from North Korea.