FM Wang's Japan trip seeks certainty amid uncertainty
Published: Nov 23, 2020 01:18 PM

Photo: VCG

At the invitation of Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Japan from Tuesday. This is the first official visit to Japan by the Chinese foreign minister since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. This will also be the first visit to Japan by a senior Chinese official since Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga took office in September.

At present, the domestic epidemic outlook in Japan is not optimistic, and there are also sporadic outbreaks in China. Against this disturbing backdrop, Wang still insists on visiting Japan. Ongoing strife in America and new trade deals in Asia mean Wang's trip to Japan is of great importance and is necessary. 

The trip will see consultation and coordination in the following areas.

First, free trade agreements will be placed on the table. On November 15, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement was signed. This is currently the largest free trade zone in the world and the first to include China, Japan and South Korea within its framework. On Friday, President Xi Jinping stated at the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting that China will favorably consider joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). China has always been a staunch supporter of trade liberalization and facilitation. As the leading CPTPP country, Japan has received positive signals expressed by President Xi.

Second, the trip will see coordinated efforts to promote this year's China-Japan-South Korea trilateral summit. Indeed, the summit of the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea has not yet made any progress. According to the agreement, South Korea will host this year's summit. However, due to the impact of the pandemic and the deterioration of Japan-South Korea relations, the Japanese government has been relatively passive about attending.

After Wang's visit to Japan, he will fly directly to South Korea to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and hold talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. During Wang's visit to Tokyo, he may act as a mediator between Japan and South Korea. At the same time, he can also convey Japan's position to South Korea. China, Japan and South Korea are all staunch promoters of trade liberalization yet the three parties have yet to ink their very own deal. With the deadlock in Japan-South Korea relations, China has the responsibility to play an intermediary role.

Third, the talks will likely discuss the official visit of President Xi to Japan. The development of China-Japan relations has always been a positive result of a two-way promotion from both the government and the public. After the outbreak of COVID-19, Chinese people's overall perception of Japan has greatly improved. Yet the pandemic has put government ties on pause to some degree. 

At president, although contradictions still exist in China-Japan relations, there are also great potentials for cooperation. How do China and Japan understand and respond to the Belt and Road Initiative and the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" concept proposed by each country? How to promote third-party market cooperation between China and Japan? And how to carry out policy consultations after China sent the positive signal to join the CPTPP? These all require consultations among the top leaders. President Xi's official visit to Japan will be undoubtedly of great significance for stabilizing current China-Japan relations and planning the future medium- and long-term coordination. 

After the US presidential elections, America's foreign policy is full of puzzling variables. As one of the most important bilateral relations in East Asia, China-Japan relations need to seek certainty in times of grave uncertainty.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Center for Japanese Studies, Fudan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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