Japan urged to strengthen talks, not to follow US' wrong strategy
Visit 'opens window' to stabilize ties; more sincerity needed from Tokyo
Published: Apr 03, 2023 01:13 AM
Chinese Premier Li Qiang (right) meets Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, in Beijing on April 2, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese Premier Li Qiang (right) meets Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, in Beijing on April 2, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

In a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Sunday, Chinese Premier Li Qiang urged Japan to meet China halfway and strengthen dialogue and cooperation, as well as manage discrepancies. Officials from both countries also discussed key issues such as the Taiwan question. 

Hayashi's visit to China comes at a crucial juncture when bilateral ties have spiraled down to the "most severe situation" in five decades. Experts see it as offering a window of opportunity for both countries to commit to getting ties back on the right track of managing disputes via dialogue. With Japan yet unable to shake off its distorted views of China and willing to continue to assist the US in containing Beijing, experts said that one visit will unlikely bring substantial changes. The onus is on Tokyo to show more sincerity in improving China-Japan relations, they said.

In his meeting with Hayashi, Premier Li said he wishes that China and Japan can work together to build a relationship that is required by the new era, and he asked Japan to treat China with honesty and credibility. China and Japan are important trade partners, so both sides should realize mutual benefit and achieve win-win cooperation at a higher level, said the Chinese Premier. 

Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, told Hayashi on Sunday that currently China- Japan relations remain stable, yet disturbances emerge sometimes. The fundamental reason, according to Wang, is because some forces in Japan are deliberately following the US' wrong China policy, trying to provoke and smear China's core interests. Such moves are short-sighted strategically, wrong on a political front and unwise in terms of diplomacy.

Peaceful co-existence and friendly cooperation is the only choice for China-Japan relations, China's State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang told Hayashi in Beijing on Sunday. Qin urged Japan to build correct recognition of China, strengthen communication and manage disputes properly in the first in-person meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries in more than three years.

In the meeting, Qin and Hayashi discussed core issues that are affecting ties, including Japan's plan to dump Fukushima nuclear-contaminated wastewater into the ocean, Tokyo's recent restrictions on semiconductor equipment exports and the Taiwan question. 

Qin said the Taiwan question is at the core of China's core interests, and concerns the political foundation of China-Japan relations. China urged Japan to abide by the principles of the four China-Japan political documents and commitments that have been made so far, and not to interfere with the Taiwan question nor damage China's sovereignty in any form. 

Bilateral ties at crossroads

Hayashi's visit, arranged at a juncture where China-Japan relations have nosedived to the "most severe point" since the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations 51 years ago, Yang Xiyu, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times. 

Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, believes that Premier Li's meeting with the Japanese foreign minister demonstrates that China attaches great importance to this visit, and Beijing's goodwill in pushing bilateral ties back on to a healthy trajectory.  

In a meeting with Yasuo Fukuda, former Japanese prime minister and former chairman of the Boao Forum for Asia on Friday, Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, warned that China has reason to be concerned about the possible regression of Japan's policy toward China and to question whether Japan will continue to adhere to the direction of peaceful development.   

Japanese media has been hyping the detention of a Japanese national who is allegedly suspected of espionage in China, describing it as the central task of Hayashi's Beijing visit. 

Qin said on Sunday that China will deal with the case according to law. 

Implementing consensuses reached by both countries' leaders and settling the discord of bilateral ties are Hayashi's primary tasks. Now the Japanese media has described the visit as one to denounce China, which mirrored the toxic hawkish atmosphere against China that is enveloping Japan, Xiang Haoyu, a research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times. 

Ties between Beijing and Tokyo have soured in recent years over Japan's provocation on China's bottom line issues such as the Taiwan question. In December 2022, Japan's ruling coalition agreed on a National Security Strategy update that describes China as an "unprecedented strategic challenge."

Moreover, Japan reportedly has enhanced its long-range strike capabilities which are intended to deter China. Its defense budget plans to reach 2 percent of GDP within five years, which breaks through the original 1-percent limit set by its Pacifist Constitution.

With certain positive signs, the Chinese and Japanese defense ministries recently completed a direct telephone line for a maritime and air liaison mechanism. This will contribute to maintaining regional peace and stability, the Chinese Defense Ministry announced on Friday.

However, experts are cautious over whether Hayashi's visit will be a game-changer in improving ties. "One single visit cannot solve all problems. It simply opened the door for restarting dialogues. We don't know whether this opportunity can morph into a substantial improvement," Yang said. 

In recent years, Japan has not only grown more paranoid over its relations with China, but also with other neighboring countries, thus it has upped its interaction with non-regional countries to interfere with regional issues, said Xiang, noting that it is a dangerous tendency that is making regional countries nervous.  

The third factor

Observers said that Japan's increasing hostility toward China was not only bred by Tokyo's political and military transition, but also fueled by Japan's binding itself to the US' Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China.

On Friday, Japanese officials said the government plans to impose export restrictions on 23 types of equipment used to make semiconductors, following similar curbs by the US designed to restrict China's access to cutting-edge chips in an intensifying battle over the technology.

Qin told Hayashi that the pain of the US' cruel crackdown on the Japanese semi-conductor industry can still be felt by Japan today. Now Japan is wielding the same tactics against China. Qin warned Japan not to help a villain do evil, and that a blockage will only further spur China's determination of self-reliance. 

In recent years, Japan's distorted China policy has propelled the country to stand on the US-led small clique's diplomatic frontline of containing China, and now Japan is also following the US to decouple with China economically, Xiang said. "Japan should ask itself, is it the rational way to treat its biggest trade partner and close neighbor?... Such self-destructive deeds may bring serious damage to the Japanese economy," Xiang said.

Talking to the Global Times in an exclusive interview, Fukuda said he disagreed with the idea of so-called decoupling, noting that "it would shrink the world economy and even risk triggering a military conflict, which would not do any good to the world economy."

Yang believes the US factor will continue weighing on Japan's relations with China, but it does not mean that China-Japan relations is heading to a hopeless impasse. "Even the US does not want to bungle China-US relations, as it repeatedly calls for guardrails. Japan also does not want ties with China to go astray. A lousy relation with China does no good to anyone," Yang said.