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FM Kishida’s China visit shows Beijing sizing up Abe gov’t on South China Sea, other issues

By Akio Yasaka in Beijing


Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met with three Chinese leaders during his China trip: Premier Li Keqiang, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. While they all agreed on the need to improve bilateral relations, they remained cautious about holding a bilateral summit and other issues. It is reckoned that they are gauging how the Shinzo Abe administration will deal with the South China Sea and other issues.


The most noteworthy development seen in these meetings was Wang’s four “expectations and demands” on Japan. One of the demands, “adhering to the one-China policy,” is meant to put pressure on Japan with regard to its relations with Taiwan ahead of the inauguration of the pro-independence Tsai Ing-wen administration shortly.


The demands on Japan to “stop spreading the theory of China threat” and to “treat China as an equal in the economic area” point to China’s diplomatic predicament in the face of the Abe administration’s strategy of “encircling China.”


China’s conflict with the Southeast Asian nations and the U.S. has intensified recently due to its construction of artificial islands and other actions in the South China Sea. According to a Chinese diplomatic source, China seems to abhor most the involvement of Japan, which is influential in Asia, in this issue. It is said that for this reason, the desire to mend relations with Japan to a certain degree, in order to inhibit Japan’s actions on the South China Sea issue, is behind the acceptance of Kishida’s visit.


Li stressed at his meeting with Kishida that “while there are signs of improvement in bilateral relations, the foundation is still not strong.” A Chinese expert on international affairs interpreted this to be China’s “implicit demand” on Japan “not to take action on the South China Sea and history issues that will provoke China.”


China is also applying pressure on Japan in a roundabout way. Liu Yunshan, member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China who is the fifth ranking party official, met with a supra-partisan delegation led by former Liberal Democratic Party Vice President Taku Yamasaki, who is critical of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on April 29. (Slightly abridged)

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