National / Politics

Coronavirus outbreak casts shadow over Chinese leader Xi's planned April visit to Japan

JIJI

With a new coronavirus spreading in China and authorities’ ability to contain the outbreak uncertain, a state visit to Japan by Chinese President Xi Jinping, expected to take place in early April, could be in jeopardy.

Although a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said the plan to invite Xi “remains unchanged,” the virus is spreading fast.

After it emerged in China last month, the number of cases there has already surpassed the 8,096 global cases from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). That crisis began in November 2002 and took eight months to wind down, and it is unlikely that the coronavirus outbreak will subside by April.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking at a parliamentary meeting Thursday, called Xi’s visit an opportunity to show the two countries’ determination to fulfill their responsibilities on the global stage.

Still, a Japanese government official said calls may grow in China for Xi to refrain from an overseas trip as the crisis continues to unfold.

Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have taken a cautious stance on Xi’s visit, citing repeated intrusions by Chinese government ships into Japanese territorial waters, Beijing’s response to protests in Hong Kong and alleged human rights abuses in China’s Uighur-dominated Xinjiang region.

“Given that sentiment within the party, the Japanese government may be looking to use the virus as a reason for Xi not making the visit,” an LDP member said.

Abe has publicly dismissed concerns that inviting the Chinese leader as a state guest may be taken by the international community as a sign of Tokyo’s tacit acceptance of Beijing’s stance on controversial matters.

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