• Kyodo

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Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Monday vowed to tackle “outstanding issues” between Japan and China to clear the way for a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping scheduled for this spring.

Both countries “share a great responsibility to ensure the peace and prosperity of Asia and the world,” Motegi said in a speech laying out the government’s foreign policy at the start of this year’s regular Diet session.

As such, Tokyo and Beijing should hold regular high-level dialogue and step up exchanges and cooperation in various fields, he said.

Motegi’s speech came amid opposition to Xi’s state visit by some conservative Japanese lawmakers who believe it could send the wrong message amid an ongoing bilateral territorial dispute in the East China Sea as well as human rights concerns in Hong Kong and the far-western Xinjiang region.

Visiting as a state guest, Xi will have an audience with Emperor Naruhito and a banquet at the Imperial Palace.

On China’s sending of ships into waters around the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, administered by Japan in the East China Sea, Motegi said “a unilateral effort to change the status quo will never be tolerated” and Tokyo will take “a calm and resolute approach to the situation.”

The islets are also claimed by Beijing, which calls them Diaoyu.

As for China’s territorial rows with Southeast Asian countries and militarization of disputed outposts in the South China Sea, the minister said he hopes that a peaceful resolution can be reached based on international law.

Motegi added Tokyo will continue pushing for the release of Japanese nationals who have been detained in China while working to bring about the lifting of Beijing’s restrictions on the importation of Japanese foodstuffs imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

On South Korea, he repeated calls on President Moon Jae-in’s government to address Japan’s concerns regarding court rulings awarding compensation for wartime forced labor.

Bilateral ties have been frayed since late 2018 when South Korea’s top court issued a ruling ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during the 1910-1945 period of Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Tokyo argues the rulings go against a 1965 bilateral accord that it says definitively settled the issue, and has warned Seoul not to let assets seized from the Japanese companies be liquidated.

As for relations with the United States, Motegi touted the Japan-U.S. alliance as “stronger than ever” as the countries Sunday marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of their security treaty. The minister said they will work together with Seoul to push North Korea toward denuclearization.

North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches are “unacceptable provocations” and Japan will work with the international community to fully implement U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang, he said.

On negotiations with Russia to resolve a dispute over the sovereignty of a group of islands lying off Hokkaido, Motegi said he hopes to hold close discussions with his Russian counterpart.

The spat over the Northern Territories, called the Southern Kurils by Moscow, has prevented the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty 75 years after the end of World War II.

In the meantime, they will go ahead with plans to conduct joint economic projects on the islands, Motegi said. The projects are intended to build trust between the two countries.

The foreign minister also vowed that Japan will endeavor to take a leadership role in shaping frameworks for international trade by aiming to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade pact later this year and spearheading debate for reforms to the World Trade Organization.

The RCEP involves 16 countries — the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus, Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.

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