By RIEKO MIKI, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has kicked off three days of meetings with nearly 40 global leaders in Tokyo to attend Tuesday’s state funeral for Shinzo Abe, using the opportunity to renew the ex-leader’s push for a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Among the 10 national representatives Kishida met at the State Guest House on Monday was U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. This is Harris’ first trip to Japan since she took office in January 2021.
“The most important strategic goal for Japan and the U.S. is peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific,” Kishida told Harris.
Harris reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Japan’s defense and said the U.S. is prepared to stand with Japan when the latter is threatened.
Chinese military exercises near Taiwan were also on the agenda, with Kishida and Harris affirming their opposition to unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the Indo-Pacific by force.
They discussed the “recent aggressive and irresponsible provocations in the Taiwan Strait, and reaffirmed the importance of preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” according to a White House readout.
Japan and the U.S. began advocating for a free and open Indo-Pacific during Abe’s tenure, with an eye on Chinese military expansion and economic clout, urging cooperation from countries in Southeast Asia and Europe.
Kishida also met with International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol and Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
“The world faces a crisis because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Kishida told Birol.
According to announcements by Japan’s Foreign Ministry, Kishida as of Monday was scheduled to meet with sitting and former top-level officials from around 10 countries in Europe and another 10 or so in Asia. Kishida will use his discussions with Harris, which affirmed the strength of the bilateral cooperation between Japan and the U.S., as a jumping-off point for his advocacy for stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
As prime minister, Abe had pursued dialogue with China and South Korea. But Japanese ties with these countries remain strained due to various diplomatic issues.
Wan Gang, a vice chairperson of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, will represent Beijing at the funeral. Though Wan had served as minister of science and technology from 2007, he did not have notable links to Abe.
Wan is not a member of the Chinese Communist Party, which steers the country’s policies. Given his position, he and Kishida are not currently scheduled for a formal meeting.
There had originally been speculation in Japan that China could send a senior Communist Party official. Japan and China had been exploring the possibility of a leaders’ meeting as they mark the 50th anniversary of normalized ties Thursday, and a high-level meeting could help build momentum to make this a reality. But China may have chosen to send a less-political figure instead, concerned that Japan and U.S. could comment on the Taiwan issue.
Kishida is also not expected to meet with Taiwanese representative Su Jia-chyuan, who chairs the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association.
In regard to ties with Seoul, Kishida spoke this past Wednesday with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. This was the first substantial in-person dialogue between the countries’ leaders since Abe met with then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in more than two and a half years ago.
South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo will attend Abe’s funeral, then meet with Kishida on Wednesday. He is expected to lay out Seoul’s plans to prevent the sale of seized Japanese corporate assets to compensate workers forced to work for the companies during World War II.
Kishida had cited Abe’s highly praised diplomatic skills as a reason for holding a state funeral. Japan will be the Group of Seven president for 2023, and Kishida hopes to demonstrate at home and on the international stage that he will continue Abe’s legacy.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the only top leader from the G-7 who had planned to attend the funeral, though he canceled at the last minute to deal with the aftermath of a powerful hurricane.
Other notable attendees include Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. The U.S., Japan, India and Australia make up the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad.
About 700 dignitaries from 218 countries, regions and international organizations were slated to attend Abe’s funeral as of this past Thursday, according to the Japanese government.