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Japan’s Kono, Chinese premier discuss ways to deepen ties

BEIJING — Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang began discussing ways to deepen ties in a meeting Monday in Beijing, stepping up arrangements for a possible visit to Japan by President Xi Jinping in June, his first since coming to power in 2013.


Xi is expected to travel to Osaka for a summit among the Group of 20 major economies, though the Chinese government has yet to officially confirm the trip. If realized, it would be an opportunity for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to hold his first meeting with Xi since a summit in Buenos Aires in November.


“As neighbors, China and Japan should deepen economic cooperation and cultivate third-country markets for the benefit of not only our two countries but also to ensure a stable recovery in the global economy,” Li said at the outset of the meeting at the Zhongnanhai government compound.


“We look forward to working together with China to work on bilateral and global issues,” Kono said.


While contents of his talks with Li were not immediately known, Kono is also holding bilateral talks with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, with the two expected to discuss a territorial dispute in the East China Sea over the Japanese-controlled uninhabited Senkaku Islands, which are called Diaoyu in China.


The Japanese minister is likely to ask China to lift restrictions on imports of Japanese food that were put in place after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.


In November, China removed a ban on rice grown in Niigata Prefecture, more than 200 kilometers away from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and has shown willingness to ease restrictions on other Japanese food proven to be safe based on scientific evaluation.


In a blow to Japan’s fishery industry, the World Trade Organization ruled Thursday that South Korea could maintain its import ban on Japanese seafood, reversing an earlier decision that called for the prohibition to be lifted.


Kono and Wang are also expected to discuss restarting talks on a joint gas development project in the East China Sea based on a 2008 bilateral accord that has since stalled.


“Our countries should continue with the positive energy and work toward even better relations,” Wang said at the beginning of their meeting.


On Sunday, the two co-chaired a high-level economic dialogue aimed at deepening cooperation at a time when global growth is slowing.


At the meeting, which was attended by a dozen ministers from both sides, Japan voiced concern over lax protection of intellectual property rights in China. Beijing meanwhile called on Tokyo to invest in infrastructure projects as part of its Belt and Road initiative.

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