National / Politics

Tokyo and Beijing agree to delay Xi's visit as nations battle coronavirus, source says

Reuters, Kyodo

Tokyo and Beijing have agreed to delay Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Japan as the two countries tackle outbreaks of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said Monday.

The visit had originally been planned for early April. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will officially announce the delay later this week, the person said, adding that a new schedule for Xi’s visit had not been decided.

The scheduled trip to Tokyo by Xi would be the first state visit by a Chinese president since the arrival of Hu Jintao in May 2008.

Japanese government officials had suggested the visit could be delayed until fall or later, after the nation hosts the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. “Xi’s visit in April has become difficult,” a senior official in the Abe administration said Sunday.

On Saturday, Abe told a news conference there had been no change to the schedule for the visit, adding, “It will be the first visit by a Chinese president in a decade, so we need to be able to show solid outcomes. From that perspective, Japan and China will communicate with each other closely.”

But strong opposition to the visit has been emerging within the government and Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, especially among conservative lawmakers who have argued that major issues remain outstanding, ranging from China’s maritime assertiveness to the human rights situation in Hong Kong.

When China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, came to Tokyo in late February, Japan told him that preparations for Xi’s visit were behind schedule due to the virus outbreak, according to the sources.

A number of preparatory meetings between Japanese and Chinese officials have been called off as the pneumonia-causing virus has spread globally from its apparent origins in Wuhan, in central China.

The officials have not yet worked out details of a political document on the future of the countries’ relations set to be issued by Abe and Xi, so Japan told Yang that it was becoming difficult to secure concrete results from a meeting between the leaders, the sources said. Yang told Japanese officials that he would convey their views to Beijing, according to the sources.

A state visit would include a meeting with Emperor Naruhito and a banquet at the Imperial Palace. Usually meetings with the emperor must be finalized a month in advance.

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