Japan Prime Minister heads to Beijing on Thursday for his first formal bilateral meeting with Chinese leaders in seven years as the Asian competitors seek to build on a thaw in relationship against a backdrop of trade dispute with Washington.
China has ramped up its outreach to Japan and others as it has engaged in a trade dispute with the United States.
Japan, which is worried about China’s growing naval power, is keen for smoother economic relations with its largest trading partner. It must manage the agreement without upsetting its key security ally, which is the United States, with which it also simmers some trade problems of its own.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who returned to power in 2012 when Sino-Japanese ties were in tatters because of a feud over East China Sea islands, has met with Chinese President Xi Jinping many times since their first summit in 2014 on the sidelines of a regional summit in Beijing.
However, his meeting with Xi on Friday will be the first full-scale Sino-Japanese summit since 2011.
“Through this visit, I want to raise relations between the two countries to a new level,” said Abe ahead of his journey.
Abe will meet Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday and attend a reception to mark the 40th anniversary of peace and friendship treaty. Both sides hope more meetings will follow.
“If Xi promises to come to Japan next year, that would be very big,” said Kiyoyuki Seguchi, who is the research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo. “If that is realized, the improvement in Japan-China relations will accelerate.”
A slew of agreements are expected, from a currency swap arrangement and a new dialogue on innovation and intellectual property protection to better communication between the two countries’ military.
Japan also hopes for improvement on the implementation of a 2008 agreement on jointly developing gasfields in disputed waters and wants China to ease import limits on produce from areas affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
A business forum on private sector cooperation in third world countries is expected to yield some 50 non-binding agreements, which include one on a project in Thailand, a Japanese government source said.
China may be looking to hear Abe make a positive statement about its Belt and Road initiative, a vehicle to fund and build transport and trade links in more than 60 countries.
The Belt and Road project has come under strict s scrutiny for saddling poor nations with debt through big projects that are not economically viable. China rejects such criticism.
Participation from the Japanese could help the initiative’s image and dispel fears of debtor nations, according to officials.
However, Japanese defense officials are wary of its military implications. Tokyo is pushing its Free and Open Pacific Strategy to promote trade and infrastructure in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
Japan also wants to make sure that joint projects with China are transparent, open, and fiscally sound, officials added.
“We’re ready to discuss tangible cooperation in third countries, but… we think we do not need to label this cooperation with some ‘initiative,’ a Japanese foreign ministry official said.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said this week that Japan was ending its development assistance to China, after stopping the bulk of aid more than a decade ago. Rather, they will seek ways to help others.
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