• Bloomberg, KYODO


China urged Japan to steer clear of "internal issues,” including Hong Kong and Xinjiang, as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga prepares to meet U.S. President Joe Biden later this month.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi, that he hoped Japan could treat China’s development from an "objective and rational” perspective, rather than be led by the rhythm of countries that are biased against China, according to a statement on Tuesday from the government in Beijing. While Japan is a U.S. ally, it also has a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with China, the statement continued.

Motegi reiterated in the call Japan’s serious concern over a range of issues, including the situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, as well as China’s passage of a law allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign ships, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement.

Suga will become the first foreign leader to meet Biden in person since he became president, underscoring the U.S.’s focus on shoring up ties with allies in the region as it tries to pressure China over items from human rights to trade to a probe into the origins of the coronavirus.

Suga has come under pressure from some in his own ruling party who want Japan to follow other major democracies in imposing sanctions on Chinese officials over allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang, particularly ahead of the White House summit on April 16 and the Group of Seven summit in the U.K. in June. A cross-party lawmakers’ group on human rights was set to hold its inaugural meeting later Tuesday.

Japan has found it increasingly awkward to balance its relations with the U.S., its only military ally, and China, its biggest trading partner. Japan has stepped up its rhetoric as the Biden administration signals a renewed focus on human rights in foreign policy, but it lacks a legal framework to impose sanctions.

When asked about other countries’ sanctions at a Tuesday news briefing in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said "the goal is to improve the human rights situation. Each country will decide from its own point of view whether that is effective.” He added Japan should constantly evaluate the need for its own sanctions law.

The U.S., Canada, the EU and the U.K. have all imposed penalties on China over human rights abuses against the Uyghur ethnic group in the far west region of Xinjiang, spurring groups of lawmakers to call for Japan to follow suit.

Motegi and Wang's phone call was the first time the two ministers have held talks since Wang visited Japan in November. The 90-minute conversation came at the request of China, the Japanese ministry said.

During the talks, the pair affirmed international coordination in dealing with the coup in Myanmar and the military's bloody crackdowns on protesters in the Southeast Asian country. They also agreed it is important that members of the international community fully enforce U.N. sanctions on North Korea so as to promote denuclearization of the country.

Wang expressed support for Tokyo's efforts to resolve Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

While agreeing to deepen consultations on global issues such as the novel coronavirus and climate change, the two ministers affirmed coordination in ensuring a fair and equitable business environment between Asia's two biggest economies, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

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