• Kyodo

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Despite speculation that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming state visit to Japan may be postponed by the deadly coronavirus outbreak, Japan and China are confident the plan is intact.

Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi held a series of meetings Friday in Tokyo with Japanese leaders including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe told Yang the visit is “extremely important” for bilateral ties and it was necessary to ensure it is of substance.

Xi is slated to make the trip in April and will be the first Chinese president to make a state visit since Hu Jintao in May 2008.

The visit, which will include a meeting with Emperor Naruhito and an Imperial Palace banquet, has been viewed as a chance to underscore the improvement in bilateral ties since Japan nationalized the Senkaku Islands in the early 2010s, enraging Beijing.

But Xi is struggling to contain the COVID-19 epidemic, which began in China. Infections on the mainland have topped 78,000 and the death toll is near 2,800.

The Chinese legislature said this week it will delay its annual meeting, and several bilateral preparatory meetings for Xi’s visit have also been called off, fanning speculation it will be postponed.

Abe and Yang, a member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, agreed to step up cooperation on the coronavirus, according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters after meeting with Yang that Xi’s visit will likely go ahead “for now,” leaving the door open to change.

“A state visit by a Chinese president is a once-in-a-decade event, so it must be of adequate substance. We agreed to continue communicating to that end,” he said.

Yang also met with Abe’s national security adviser, Shigeru Kitamura. The former foreign minister previously came to Japan last June, when Xi attended the Group of 20 leaders’ summit in Osaka.

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