• Kyodo

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Japan and China have agreed to continue preparations for a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in April despite speculation the trip may be postponed as Beijing struggles to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a meeting on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich, Germany, on Saturday, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi that Japan fully supports Beijing’s efforts to contain the epidemic, which has killed more than 1,600 and infected over 68,000 in mainland China alone, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

The pneumonia-causing coronavirus apparently began spreading in late December from a seafood market in Wuhan, a commercial hub of about 11 million in central China that has since been put under lockdown.

Motegi expressed “great appreciation” for China’s cooperation in evacuating Japanese citizens and their families from the city and elsewhere in Hubei province on chartered planes. So far, 763 people have been repatriated on four flights, with a fifth set to return Monday.

Meanwhile, Wang thanked Japan for sending emergency supplies, including surgical masks and protective suits, while also making assurances that — despite the setback due to the virus — the Chinese economy would be able to recover.

Regarding Xi’s planned state visit to Japan, Motegi said the two countries share a responsibility to promote global peace and prosperity and that the trip would be an opportunity to show their commitment to fulfilling that duty, according to the ministry.

State visits entail an audience with Emperor Naruhito and a banquet at the Imperial Palace. The last Chinese leader to make one to Japan was President Hu Jintao in May 2008.

Wang said China is eager for the visit to go ahead and for the two countries to take their strategic relationship of mutual benefit to “new heights.”

Asked by reporters after the meeting whether Wang suggested Xi’s trip would happen as scheduled, Motegi said “that’s what he meant, yes.”

The visit was believed to be at risk of being postponed after a preparatory meeting slated for this month between government officials from the two countries was pushed back.

Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, will travel to Japan later this month to work out the timing of Xi’s trip, government sources said.

Yang, a former state councilor, is a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.

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