Ruling party lawmakers, citing concerns over Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong, are urging the government to consider withdrawing its invitation to Chinese President Xi Jinping for a state visit to Japan.
Two groups from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party submitted a resolution to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Friday, expressing “serious concern” over the situation in the semiautonomous former British colony.
The resolution called on the government to “carefully consider” whether the visit should still go ahead, underscoring the views of conservative LDP members, who have been critical of China’s poor human rights record and continued assertiveness in waters surrounding the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands. The uninhabited islets are also claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu.
China’s rubber-stamp parliament on Thursday decided to introduce a national security law to crack down on what it views as subversive activity in Hong Kong, a move strongly criticized by many Western countries.
The resolution, compiled by the party’s Foreign Affairs Division and Research Commission on Foreign Affairs, stressed that Hong Kong must remain free and open, and urged Abe to heap pressure on China over the matter.
Yasuhide Nakayama, head of the division, said the document had initially been meant just to condemn China, but there was a growing consensus among the participants in a meeting on Friday that Xi’s visit should not happen under the current circumstances.
The government has maintained that the visit will take place eventually, with Suga saying Thursday that Japan and China will “remain in communication” on the matter.
Under a 1997 agreement between Britain and China, Hong Kong was promised “a high degree of autonomy,” except in matters of foreign policy and defense, for a period of 50 years.
Xi’s visit, which would have included a summit with Abe as well as a meeting with Emperor Naruhito and a banquet at the Imperial Palace, had been slated to take place this spring but was postponed due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Along with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which has now been postponed until July next year, Xi’s visit was one of Abe’s top agendas for 2020 as it was planned to showcase improved Japan-China relations. But both leaders apparently came to terms with the fact that containing the pandemic was their top priority.
Abe’s has come under fire for failing to adopt entry restrictions on Chinese visitors ahead of the Chinese Lunar year holidays early in February. It is widely believed that he was reluctant to take tougher measures because doing so would have cut into tourist revenue generated by Chinese tourists.
In 2019, tourists from South Korea and China comprised 47.6 percent of all foreign visitors to Japan, bringing into focus the heavy blow the outbreak is taking on the tourism industry. By late January, China had already banned group travel overseas, dramatically reducing the number of inbound tourists to Japan.