Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be in Beijing from Oct. 25-27 as the first Japanese prime minister to make an official visit to China in seven years. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the effectuation of the bilateral Treaty of Peace and Friendship, as well as the introduction of the “policy of reform and opening up” in China. One of the main topics in the upcoming summit meeting is the strengthening of economic cooperation.
When the business exchange delegation of the Japan-China Economic Association (chaired by Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. Chairman Shoji Muneoka) visited the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in northern China in early October, they were swamped by requests from local companies. Masatsugu Iwanaga, head of the association’s Beijing Office, says, “We have suddenly been approached by many local governments since the beginning of this year.”
The Chinese economy’s downturn as a result of trade friction with the U.S. is behind the rush to improve relations with Japan. China’s GDP grew only 6.5% in the July-September period, the lowest in nine and a half years.
Therefore, China is trying to involve Japan in its “Belt and Road Initiative” to foster a new growth engine. Chinese experts stressed at an economic forum held in Shanghai on Oct. 20 that “Japan and China should cooperate in opposing protectionism. The Belt and Road Initiative is precisely a new opportunity to promote cooperation.”
Japanese companies have been deeply involved in China’s rapid economic growth. Since China adopted the policy of reform and opening up in 1978, Japanese companies have offered China technical cooperation, which eventually led to many Chinese products dominating the world market.
However, Japanese companies are most anxious about political tensions that may adversely affect the business environment, such as the Senkaku Islands issue. Many of them still reckon that “it is necessary to think about the political risks” even with regard to the Belt and Road Initiative. They are watching if the forthcoming summit meeting will mark a turning point that will strengthen the bonds between the two countries and vigorously propel their economies forward. (Slightly abridged)