National / Politics

China nudges Japan on joining up in ‘Belt and Road’ initiative at 14th Annual Tokyo-Beijing Forum

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Senior government officials from Japan and China met at a two-day symposium that kicked off Sunday in Tokyo, in yet another sign of an apparent thaw in relations between the two Asian powerhouses.

During the 14th Annual Tokyo-Beijing Forum at a hotel in the capital, Wei Jianguo, vice chairman at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, revealed that about 1,000 people will attend a signing ceremony for more than 60 joint projects involving Japanese and Chinese firms when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Beijing later this month.

Those projects are all designed to jointly develop “third-country” markets in countries outside of China and Japan.

The joint projects include the construction of a petroleum refinement plant in Kazakhstan and a solar power generation facility in the United Arab Emirates, which will be one of the world’s largest, Wei said through a Japanese translator.

During the symposium, Chinese officials repeatedly urged Japan to jointly promote third-country development projects in what was seen by some as a push by Beijing for Tokyo to join its ambitious “Belt and Road” initiative, which is centered on massive infrastructure projects in central Asia, Europe and the Indo-Pacific region.

“Right now, the China-Japan relationship has a forward-looking momentum,” Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua said in his speech at the symposium. “High-level contacts have been maintained and exchanges in various areas have been strengthened,” he added.

Japan and China still have “differences in opinions” over certain issues, but the two countries now need to control frictions by “building up mutual trust” through the understanding of each other with rational minds, the ambassador emphasized.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, deputy chief cabinet secretary, generally welcomed the recent improvements in bilateral relations between the two countries. But he also noted Tokyo and Beijing have agreed to promote third-country projects “that meet global standards.” Tokyo has long urged Beijing to increase the transparency of its overseas infrastructure efforts and not to extend overly large loans to developing countries that don’t have the capacity to pay them back.

Nishimura also maintained there will be no “real improvements” in the Sino-Japanese relationship without the “stabilization of the situation in the East China Sea,” alluding to the territorial dispute over a group of Japan-controlled islets in the area that Tokyo calls the Senkakus, but which are also claimed by China where they are known as the Diaoyu.

Bilateral relations between Tokyo and Beijing were badly strained after Japan nationalized some of the Senkakus in the fall of 2012. In response to the move, Beijing started sending ships into the waters around the uninhabited islets.

Recently, though, the two countries have improved on their relations, arranging for Abe’s three-day visit to Beijing starting on Oct. 25, which will include a summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

During the symposium, Nishimura also urged China to lift its import ban on Japanese food products from Fukushima Prefecture and surrounding areas that was implemented after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“If (the ban) is lifted, it would send a big message to the Japanese people” and further improve the bilateral relationship, he said.

“We hope you will have positive consultations (with Japan) based on scientific evidence,” Nishimura added.

The annual symposium, started in 2005, has been organized by the Tokyo-based nongovernmental organization Genron NPO.

The group conducted an opinion survey last month and found 42.2 percent of Chinese respondents in 10 major cities said they have a “good” impression of Japan, up 10.7 points from last year.

Experts say the dramatic increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Japan in recent years has probably helped improved their impression of the country.

Meanwhile, 86.3 percent of Japanese respondents nationwide said they have a “bad” impression of China, down only 2 points from last year. Only 13.1 percent said they have “good” impression, up 1.6 points, according to the survey.

The survey covered 1,000 Japanese age 18 or older and 1,548 Chinese adults in cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenyang and Xi’an.