By Tsubasa Suruga, Nikkei staff writer
Japan is willing to participate in China’s regionwide infrastructure drive, as long as the conditions are appropriate, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a dinner reception at the conference.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative promises to broaden Beijing’s sphere of influence through the construction of infrastructure across Asia, all the way to Europe. Abe said his government “is ready to extend cooperation” but stressed “it is critical for infrastructure to be open to use by all, and to be developed through procurement that is transparent and fair.” The projects must be economically viable, too, he said.
Abe’s remarks were the latest sign that Tokyo wants to smooth things over with Beijing before a possible bilateral summit in July.
In May, Beijing hosted a high-profile Belt and Road Forum to build momentum for the initiative. Wary of China’s growing influence over the region, Japan initially had no intention of participating. In the end, it sent a delegation headed by Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who told Xi of Abe’s desire to rebuild the bilateral relationship.
In his address, Abe said he expects the Chinese initiative to “come into harmony with the free and fair trans-Pacific economic zone, and contribute to the peace and prosperity of the region and the world.”
Only last year, Abe had said at the same venue that “infrastructure cannot be cheap and poor,” in a not-so-discreet jab at China’s pet initiative. “We look at cost and effectiveness through the total life cycle of the project,” he had said.
Now, Japan’s eagerness to improve ties stems, in part, from concern that China and the U.S. might band together to deal with North Korea and other issues — eroding Japanese influence in East Asia. This could upend Tokyo’s plan to apply pressure on China over territorial matters in the East and South China seas, in collaboration with the U.S.
On May 31, Abe met with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi in Tokyo and agreed to work to arrange a bilateral summit and other high-level talks in July, when the Group of 20 leaders meet in Germany. The two sides also agreed to work closely to denuclearize North Korea.
Abe’s address at the conference dinner also touched on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, following the U.S. withdrawal. Abe said he is determined to proceed.
“Unfortunately, the TPP has yet to come to fruition,” he said. “However, I will not give up.”
He added that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, can take cues from the TPP framework. “RCEP, which is our future goal, can become a high-quality agreement by building on the rules that came to fruition under the TPP,” Abe said. “Now, we are at a critical juncture.”