• Kyodo

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Japan and China have agreed to launch talks to facilitate cooperation on infrastructure development projects in third countries amid a recent thaw in bilateral relations, diplomatic sources said Friday.

The inaugural meeting is being arranged for April or May in Beijing, before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Japan in June for the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, according to the sources.

The launch of talks comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is shifting toward conditional cooperation with China despite Xi’s “Belt and Road” initiative to build infrastructure networks in Asia and beyond, which has raised concerns over the possibility Beijing could pull many developing countries into its economic orbit.

When Abe visited China last October, he and Xi agreed on the need to discuss how best to cooperate on infrastructure projects in third countries.

Kazuya Nashida, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s International Cooperation Bureau, is expected to lead a Japanese delegation for the meeting with senior officials from the China International Development Cooperation Agency, according to the sources.

It remains to be seen how much China and Japan, the world’s second- and third-largest economies, can cooperate in developing infrastructure in third countries, including those along the ancient Silk Road that runs from China to Europe via Central Asia.

Critics say some developing countries that have borrowed heavily from China are reeling from excessive debt burdens.

Japan has been vigilant against China’s attempts to increase its economic influence in the region even though recent months have seen the two countries warming to each other amid trade friction between Beijing and Washington.

Some Japanese government officials say the upcoming dialogue should not be a forum for the giant initiative.

“We hope to explore future cooperation in new areas as Japan’s official development assistance to China is set to end in fiscal 2018,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Under Abe, Japan has been striving to create a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” an initiative designed to facilitate the flow of goods and people by building quality infrastructure, and to maintain the rules-based order in the region.

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