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Ruling party officials’ China trip aims at laying groundwork for leaders’ visits

By Hiroyuki Akiyama

 

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai and his Komeito counterpart Yoshihisa Inoue will visit China from Dec. 24-29. Coordination is underway for them to meet with President Xi Jinping. With regard to the bilateral relationship, they will look at the possibility for the leaders of both countries to exchange visits. There is also a proposal to redefine the mutually beneficial strategic relationship between the two countries in order to move bilateral relations forward forcefully. Since trends in the bilateral relationship are prone to be influenced by the issue of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa and the domestic political situation, both sides want to take advantage of the visit by Nikai, a politician with close relations with China, to improve the environment for bilateral ties.

 

At his meeting with Nikai and Inoue at the Kantei on Dec. 22, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated: “It is of great significance that your visit will be the finale for 2017, which marks the 45th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties, and usher in 2018, which will mark the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the bilateral Treaty of Peace and Friendship,” voicing his expectations for this China visit. Nikai responded with: “It is important to have frequent exchanges.”

 

The Japanese delegation consisting of some 20 members, including Nikai and Inoue, will participate in an exchange event between the Japanese and Chinese ruling parties. They will hold a meeting with Song Tao, head of the Communist Party of China (CPC) International Liaison Department, in Fujian Province, after which they will move on to Beijing. The main focus of interest will be whether they will be able to meet with Xi and draw a positive response from him on improvement of bilateral relations. Nikai is also scheduled to give a speech at the Central Party School, an institution for training CPC cadres.

 

While Japan-China relations have been marred by the Senkaku and South China Sea issues in recent years, there have also been signs of change. Both Xi and Abe have been able to consolidate their power and are now in a position to take risks in foreign policy. They also need to cooperate in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

 

During his trip to Southeast Asia in November, Abe proposed exchange of visits by leaders of both countries to Xi. In his meeting with Nikai and his group on Dec. 22, Abe said; “First, we would like Premier Li Keqiang to come to Japan for the Japan-China-ROK summit, to be followed by my visit to China, and we would also like President Xi to visit Japan.”

 

If Abe and Xi are to exchange visits, the two governments will have to face the issue of redefining the bilateral relationship. There is an opinion in the ruling parties that, “This process should not only take the bilateral relationship into account, but should also think of the role of the Japan-China relationship in the international community.” Efforts to create a favorable atmosphere will be needed on both sides to make this cooperative process possible.

 

Nikai, who has extensive personal connections in China, has long been deeply involved with the bilateral relationship. He once spoke positively about Japan’s membership in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and drafting a fifth basic political document on bilateral relations. While the LDP has no direct power with regard to foreign policy, this also means it does not bear any responsibility, enabling party officials to speak out freely. It is hoped that the present China visit will also make full use of this advantage. (Slightly abridged)

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