Japan, China agree on economic ties, split over islands

MARI YAMAGUCHI
·3 min read

TOKYO (AP) — China's top diplomat told Japan's leader on Wednesday that Beijing wants the two Asian powers to have good relations and cooperate in fighting the coronavirus and reviving their pandemic-hit economies, but the two sides remained at odds over an island dispute.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivered a message from Chinese President Xi Jinping expressing his hope of developing positive relations with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and "strengthen cooperation with Japan in pandemic measures and for the economic recovery," Wang told reporters after meeting with Suga.

Wang told Suga that ties between the two countries have improved through high-level dialogue and mutual efforts and that China wants to cooperate further in a range of areas.

“A stable relationship between the two countries is important not only for Japan and China but also for the region and the international community, and I would like to fulfill our responsibilities together,” Suga said during his talks with Wang.

Wang’s visit came as Japan is actively promoting military and economic partnerships with countries in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China’s rise, which Japan considers a security threat. Beijing has criticized the move as an attempt to create an “Asian NATO.”

Often-thorny relations between the two countries have improved in recent years as China’s trade dispute with the U.S. has escalated, but territorial disputes continue to strain ties.

Suga reminded Wang of Japan's claim over Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands and raised concern about China's growing activity in the area. Chinese coast guard ships have stepped up activity around the islands despite protests and warnings by Japan.

Japan says the islands belong to it historically and under international law and that China started claiming them only after undersea oil reserves were found in the area in the 1970s.

Earlier Wednesday, Japan protested the increased Chinese activity and what it called infiltration around the islands.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said the government protested after Chinese ships entered Japan’s contiguous zone, just outside its territorial waters, for the 306th time this year, including 20 cases of territorial violations.

“The situation is extremely serious,” Kato told reporters after meeting with Wang.

The Chinese ships entered the zone only a day after both sides agreed to avoid provocative actions in the contested area, he said.

On Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Wang agreed to try not to escalate tensions over the islands.

Wang was firm about China's right to defend its sovereignty, and accused Japanese authorities of sending “fake" fishing boats into the area to interfere with the Chinese side. Japan has said Chinese ships threatened the safety of the Japanese fishing boats.

"We hope that both sides can calmly deal with it so that it will not affect the current hard-won improvement of Sino-Japanese relations and the future development of bilateral relations,” Wang said.

The two foreign ministers agreed to resume business travel between the world’s second and third largest economies through a “business track” program that will allow visitors to engage in limited activities during their 14-day quarantine periods. They also agreed to work together on climate change, energy conservation, health care and digital commerce as part of their economic cooperation.

It was the first trip to Japan by a top Chinese official since the February visit of Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi. Officials said the two sides did not discuss a rescheduling of Xi’s state visit to Japan, postponed from the spring due to the pandemic.

After his visit to Japan, Wang heads for meetings in South Korea.

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