BEIJING — The next Chinese ambassador to Japan on Friday expressed support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stated intention to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions.
China “supports dialogue” between the leaders of Japan and North Korea “as a neighbor of the Korean Peninsula,” Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said in a meeting with Kyodo News and other Japanese media outlets.
Kong, considered an expert on Japan, doubles as China’s special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs at a time when the international community is closely watching whether North Korea will achieve denuclearization as Kim has pledged.
Japan should eventually lay the groundwork for normalization of ties with North Korea, Kong said, voicing hope that Tokyo will “play a constructive role” in resolving issues related to the Korean Peninsula “in a political manner.”
With North Korea’s consecutive launches of projectiles apparently rekindling tensions in the region since earlier this month, Kong said the direction for a thaw on the Korean Peninsula is “not reversed at this juncture.”
Abe had suggested a future summit with Kim would not be possible without a guarantee of progress, but he said following phone talks with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday, “To resolve the abduction issue, I myself need to face Chairman Kim without conditions.”
Relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang are stuck in a stalemate over the long-standing issue of past abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents, with Abe having stated that tackling the matter is his “life’s work.”
Kong spoke in Japanese in the meeting, indicating his willingness to make efforts to deepen ties with Japan further.
Sino-Japanese relations have been markedly improving recently, with 2018 — the 40th anniversary of the signing and entering into force of the bilateral Treaty of Peace and Friendship — serving as an incentive to forge better ties.
As for a territorial row over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and other security issues, they are a “fragile” part of bilateral relations, Kong said. The group of uninhabited islets, which are called Diaoyu in China, are controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.
Noting that China and Japan agreed in a joint statement in 2008 that the two countries are cooperative partners and do not pose a threat to each other, Kong said, “It is important to reflect this political common view in policies.”
In late June, Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to attend this year’s summit of the Group of 20 major economies in Osaka. If realized, it would be Xi’s first trip to Japan since he came to power in 2013.
China wants the G-20 to send “a positive signal to promote multinationalism and the open global economy,” Kong said.
Amid an ongoing trade dispute with the administration of Trump, who has pursued protectionism, Kong called for economic cooperation of Japan, saying the two countries “have great responsibility to maintain the free trade system.”
Educated at Shanghai International Studies University where he majored in Japanese, Kong is a career diplomat who served as ambassador to Vietnam and assistant foreign minister before becoming vice foreign minister in 2017.
Kong is expected to assume the new post ahead of the G-20 summit, succeeding the current ambassador, Cheng Yonghua, who will end what has been an unusually long stint for a Chinese envoy in Tokyo.