BEIJING/TOKYO – Japan and China have decided to put off another preparatory meeting of high-ranking officials amid the spread of the new strain of coronavirus, diplomatic sources said Wednesday, boosting the likelihood that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit this spring may be delayed.
The vice ministerial-level meeting on economic partnership, which had been set for later this month, was meant as an opportunity to discuss specific outcomes that Japan and China will aim to produce during Xi’s visit, which has been arranged for early April.
The new pneumonia-causing virus has spread from the central Chinese city of Wuhan to Japan and more than 20 other countries, prompting a rethink of bilateral working-level meetings as Beijing has struggled to contain the disease, named COVID-19.
China’s leadership has admitted “shortcomings and deficiencies” in responding to the outbreak. In mainland China alone, the virus has killed over 2,000 and infected more than 74,000.
One of the diplomatic sources said the meeting at the vice minister level was “very important” among a series of preparatory discussions.
China is expected to make a decision on whether to go ahead with the state visit as planned after taking into account the outbreak situation in the coming weeks and Japanese public sentiment, the sources said.
Xi’s first visit to Japan since he came to power in 2013 would signify a further improvement in bilateral ties that had been chilled over wartime history and territory. If realized, he will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have an audience with Emperor Naruhito and a banquet at the Imperial Palace.
Some conservative ruling party lawmakers in Japan have said it would be an inappropriate time for the two countries to go ahead with Xi’s state visit.
But Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Germany on Saturday, has said the two countries will make necessary preparations to realize it as planned.
The postponement comes after the two countries put off a meeting in mid-February in Beijing meant to lay the groundwork for the vice ministerial-level discussions. China will consider delaying the annual meeting of its national parliament in early March, official media have reported.
China’s top foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, is expected to visit Japan later in the month to discuss Xi’s visit, according to Japanese government sources.