With a Chinese submarine found to be cruising underwater in Japan’s contiguous zone, the process of improvement of bilateral ties is now back to square one. The government plans to send Foreign Minister Taro Kono to China on Jan. 27-28 to obtain information on China’s intent, but it is having difficulty arranging for meetings with Premier Li Keqiang and other senior Chinese officials.
Coordination is almost completed for Kono to meet with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and State Councillor Yang Jiechi, China’s top official in charge of foreign policy. Kono will call for reactivating reciprocal visits by the leaders of both countries and protest the submarine incident. The Japanese government wants to determine if the action taken by the submarine was based on a consensus in the Chinese government through Kono’s visit.
However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry often has no control on the actions of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), so it is uncertain if Wang and Yang will be able to give satisfactory answers. When Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama protested to Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua, Cheng was apparently “completely unaware of what really happened,” according to a source on Japan-China relations.
For this reason, the Japanese government is seeking meetings with Li and others who are in a position to know about the PLA’s actions. Li once agreed to meet with former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida during his visit to China in April 2016. However, Jan. 27-28 is a weekend and the Chinese side is saying that “government leaders do not hold meetings on Saturdays and Sundays.”
Even if Kono fails to meet with the top leaders, the government regards meetings with Wang and Yang as the minimum goal. If he is unable to find out China’s true intent in the submarine incident, this may become a major obstacle in Japan’s cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative.