By Kei Ganaha in Beijing
The ruling party delegation led by Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai and his Komeito counterpart Yoshihisa Inoue completed the itinerary for their China visit, which included a meeting with President Xi Jinping, and returned home on Dec. 29. The atmosphere of their meeting with Xi was amicable throughout and they were able to exchange views on the North Korea issue at their meetings with several senior Chinese officials, so they have made considerable achievements. However, they failed to obtain a commitment on leaders’ visits to each other’s countries, including a visit to Japan by Xi, which was their main objective. The trip also reflected the difficulty of moving the bilateral relationship forward all at once.
Before he returned home, Nikai had an informal meeting with reporters accompanying him on this trip. Commenting on his failure to obtain a commitment on a visit to Japan by Xi, he said: “In diplomacy, you’re dealing with other parties. It isn’t always possible for Japan’s plans to be realized.”
Japan envisions the following scenario for the full-fledged thawing of bilateral relations: 1) A visit to Japan by Premier Li Keqiang at an early date for a Japan-China-ROK summit; 2) A visit to China by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2018; and 3) A visit to Japan by Xi in 2018. This trip to China by Nikai and Inoue was regarded as a major opportunity to move this process forward.
In a speech he delivered in Beijing, Nikai praised former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, Chairman Mao Zedong, and others who realized the normalization of bilateral diplomatic relations. In his meeting with Inoue, Xi also responded enthusiastically to a message conveyed by Inoue from Soka Gakkai Honorary President Daisaku Ikeda, founder of Komeito who championed the cause of normalizing Japan-China ties, by stating: “You must give my compliments to Mr. Ikeda.” Both sides’ paying their respects to the forerunners who contributed to normalization of relations was an indication of their strong desire to improve ties. However, not even the first step in this process, fixing a date for Li’s visit to Japan, was accomplished and Xi never responded to the invitation for him to visit Japan.
There is an opinion that the Chinese side was unable to talk about the timing because it would be difficult to give a definite answer before the leadership is consolidated at the National People’s Congress to be held in March. (Slightly abridged)