National / Politics

Japan won't seek to delay Xi's visit, Suga says, as virus spreads from China

JIJI

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has said that Japan is not planning to postpone a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping expected for early April.

“At this moment, we intend to steadily advance preparations to realize a Japan visit (by Xi) as planned,” Suga said at a news conference on Wednesday. “We do not expect that a postponement will be sought from the Japanese side.”

The top government spokesman made the remarks in response to concerns that the widespread outbreak of the coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan may affect the planned presidential visit.

Suga also rebutted a media report that the Japanese and Chinese governments have postponed a related preparatory meeting in order to deal with the coronavirus crisis, saying, “there are no cases of postponements, with no specific date set for such a meeting.”

However, it has been reported by Jiji Press that talks between Tokyo and Beijing on arranging a state visit by Xi this spring have stalled as China deals with the spreading outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Some Japanese officials are starting to worry that the visit, expected for early April, may not materialize.

The Japanese and Chinese governments have held a series of unofficial talks to schedule Xi’s visit since the beginning of this year. However, the two sides have been forced to reschedule some meetings slated for this month in the wake of the viral epidemic, sources said.

At a news conference Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying thanked Japan for the aid it has provided to help stop the coronavirus outbreak.

Hua noted specific examples of aid, such as the sending of face masks and protective gear by the Japanese government and businesses. She also praised Japanese gestures meant to encourage the people of China, including stores putting up signs reading “Hang in there, Wuhan” in Chinese.

The comments are thought to be efforts by Beijing to soften up public sentiment toward Japan in the run-up to Xi’s planned state visit and curb the United States’ hard-line measures against China in its coronavirus prevention policies.

Before Xi’s trip, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party and the country’s top diplomat, plans to visit Japan. But work to schedule his visit is not progressing.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said that Beijing “is preoccupied with coping with the viral outbreak at the moment and is not in a situation to talk about diplomacy.”

A visit to Japan by Chinese President Jiang Zemin planned for September 1998 was postponed by two months, as he had to deal with a severe flood in China at that time.

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