Japan business heads visit

By Sun Xiaobo Source:Global Times Published: 2013-11-19 1:33:01

A Japanese delegation of around 180 executives started its seven-day visit to China on Monday in a bid to promote bilateral economic ties, the largest business mission between the two countries since a recent flare-up of territorial tensions.

The move came as China and South Korea launched the eighth round of free trade talks on the same day in Incheon, South Korea.

The largest delegation since 2011, organized by the Japan-China Economic Association, is headed by Fujio Cho, Toyota Motor Corp's honorary chairman, and Hiromasa Yonekura, head of the Japan Business Federation, a powerful business lobby group. It also includes a number of blue-chip companies such as the Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and ANA Holdings Inc, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The delegation will not be able to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping or Premier Li Keqiang during their stay in Beijing on Thursday as they had expected but was set to meet with Vice Premier Wang Yang on Tuesday, Kyodo News reported on Monday.

They are scheduled to hold talks with ministerial-level officials of Chinese government departments including the ministries of commerce, as well as industry and information technology. The topics to be discussed include the negotiations regarding a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between China, Japan and South Korea and cooperation on addressing air pollution, according to Kyodo.

China hopes this visit will help Japanese people's understanding of China and its position on bilateral relations, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular press briefing on Monday.

"The delegation's visit has a positive influence on the soured relationship between China and Japan, as disputes over the Diaoyu Islands don't stand for the entirety of bilateral relations, while halted economic and human exchanges would do no good to solving the problems," Feng Zhaokui, honorary academician of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and a senior Japanese expert, told the Global Times, noting that sluggish economic ties between the two Asian giants would affect the global supply chain.

The annual tour that has been running since 1975 was put to a halt last year due to tensions resulted from Tokyo's so-called nationalization of the Diaoyu Islands. A small Japanese business delegation with 21 executives was sent to China in March instead.

In the meantime, China and South Korea launched five-day talks over bilateral free trade, the first for second-stage negotiations. The two sides will discuss items that will be liberalized by lowering or removing tariff barriers, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday.

Multilateral FTA talks between China, Japan and South Korea are due to begin in late November, which experts say face enormous barriers in making progress due to the strained relationship between Japan and its two neighbors.

"The trade talks between China and South Korea boast prospects of success as the two economies are highly complementary, dependent and hold similar positions in addressing regional issues, despite small problems like opposition of farmers from within South Korea. As for the trilateral talks, there are formidable political barriers in its path forward given Japan's refusal to squarely face its history in World War II," Shen Jiru, a research fellow with the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the CASS, told the Global Times on Monday.

In 2012, the three countries' combined GDP totaled $15 trillion, accounting for around 20 percent of the world's total and 70 percent of Asia's total.

China and South Korea completed their first negotiations in early September with seven rounds of talks, reaching agreement on the basic guidelines for the bilateral FTA. They tentatively agreed to abolish tariffs on 90 percent of all products in terms of the number of items, covering 85 percent of the imports value, Xinhua reported

However, the progress of Beijing-Seoul talks will serve as pressure as well as a driving force for the trilateral talks as the multilateral FTA will be beneficial for all three parties and should not be affected too much politically, Feng said. He added that Japan's business community should make more contributions by giving a stronger voice to call on the Japanese government to face its history.

The trade volume between China and Japan for the first 10 months this year reached $256 billion, down by 7 percent year on year, according to China's customs statistics.

Agencies contributed to this story

Posted in: Diplomacy

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