Japan does not plan to set a new date for a postponed state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping for the time being, taking heed of growing domestic opposition following Beijing's move to tighten its grip on Hong Kong, government sources have said.
The coronavirus pandemic has already prompted Japan and China to reschedule Xi's visit slated for this spring, and some within the Japanese government expect the trip may not be realized until next spring or even later.
The delay in rescheduling what would be the first state visit by a Chinese president since 2008 comes on the heels of heightened tensions between China and the United States — Japan's key ally.
U.S. President Donald Trump has been stepping up criticism of China over the coronavirus pandemic and the issue of Hong Kong.
"We've not moved forward at all (in terms of preparing for Xi's visit). Tackling the new coronavirus comes first and beyond that we are not talking about the schedule. Nothing has been decided yet," a government source said.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Wednesday that Xi's visit would take place after November, when the summit meeting of the Group of 20 advanced and emerging economies is scheduled in Saudi Arabia.
Even if Japan and China hold a summit on the G20 fringes and move to fix a date, the prevailing view within the government is that it will likely take a few months to make necessary preparations and thus Xi's visit will not come until early next year or later.
A state guest can meet with the emperor and attend a banquet at the Imperial Palace. Japan receives around two state guests a year.
Xi's visit this spring would have underscored the warming of bilateral ties long frayed over wartime history and territorial issues.
In recent weeks, however, China has continued to send ships to waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Two Chinese Coast Guard ships chased a Japanese fishing boat in Japanese territorial waters around the Japanese-controlled, Chinese-claimed islands, known as the Diaoyu by Beijing, in early May.
China's recent push to impose a national security law on Hong Kong, which critics say will curtail freedom in the semiautonomous region, has led some conservative lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to urge the government to reconsider Xi's visit.
Expressing serious concerns about the situation in Hong Kong, two LDP panels submitted a resolution to the government in late May, urging it to carefully reconsider whether the visit should go ahead.
For his part, Abe has been seeking to create a "new era" for Japan and China and is unlikely to give up on receiving Xi as a state guest, the government sources said, even though he would have to take heed of the voices of his conservative support base and some LDP lawmakers who are opposed.
Defense Minister Taro Kono sounded a cautious note about welcoming Xi, saying that the security situation facing Japan should be taken into consideration.
"As defense minister responsible for security, I will make my voice heard within the government," Kono said at a news conference Friday.