BEIJING — Ambassador Hideo Tarumi, a veteran China hand, sat in the Japanese embassy in Beijing waiting for the call.
Japan and the U.S. had explicitly referred to Taiwan — a diplomatic third rail for Beijing — in a leader’s summit statement for the first time in more than five decades. But the call to summon Tarumi never came.
State-run China Central Television carried no prime-time coverage of Friday’s summit between Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and President Joe Biden. The Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily newspaper ran only a piece describing remarks Saturday from a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson hitting back at the statement.
Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin reiterated these views in a regular news conference Monday, saying “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory” and calling on Washington and Tokyo to “immediately stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and harming China’s interests.” Yet Beijing’s response to the statement, calling for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, was otherwise unusually muted.
Beijing usually objects forcefully to perceived encroachments on “core interests” like Taiwan. China summoned Japan’s ambassador in 2014 after the U.S. confirmed that the Tokyo-administered Senkaku Islands — which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyu — are covered by the security treaty between the two allies.
The relatively low-key response suggests that China seeks to avoid straining its relationships with the U.S. and Japan ahead of climate talks and the Communist Party’s upcoming 100th anniversary.
The U.S. presents the biggest potential stumbling block for Chinese President Xi Jinping as he looks toward securing an unusual third five-year term and his nation makes a faster economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic than any other major country.
Xi hopes to buy time to ensure a smooth progression through a string of high-profile events — the 100th anniversary of the founding of modern China on July 1, the Winter Olympics in Beijing next February and the once-in-five-years Communist Party congress in 2022.
Beijing also sees the stage being set for ongoing dialogue with Washington on climate change. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry met with Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua last week to discuss the issue in Shanghai, the city where the two countries signed the 1972 communique that put an end to their hostile relationship.
Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng — the Communist Party’s No. 7 official and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s top decision-making body — spoke with Kerry via video link during the visit, and the two sides were able to produce a joint statement on the climate crisis.
In a sign of Beijing’s confidence that talks will continue despite tensions between the two sides, Hong Kong newspaper Sing Tao Daily reported Monday that Xi is expected to attend the climate summit being hosted by the U.S. this week.
China intends to use these dialogue channels for issues beyond climate change.
A Communist Party source said Beijing plans to address all seven issues singled out at last month’s U.S.-China meeting in Alaska for future discussion. These include not only climate change, but also reopening consulates closed under the previous U.S. administration, easing visa restrictions and cooperating at Group of 20 meetings. Beijing hopes these broader negotiations will ease tensions.