Japan sounds out China on May visit by top Abe aide: sources

Kyodo News

Posted at Apr 28 2016 10:58 AM | Updated as of Apr 28 2016 11:39 PM

TOKYO - Japan has sounded out China about a plan to send a close aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Beijing in May to lay the groundwork for a summit between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping later this year, Japanese and Chinese diplomatic sources said Wednesday.

China has yet to respond, saying it will keep a close watch on Japan's approach to territorial rows in the South China Sea involving China and other countries in the region, the sources told Kyodo News.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida plans to brief his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in a meeting in Beijing on April 30 on Tokyo's stance toward the South China Sea issue.

He will also try to reaffirm the importance of cooperation in responding to the increasing uncertainty surrounding the global economy, a step Tokyo hopes will contribute to improving bilateral relations.

According to the diplomatic sources, Japan proposed in mid-April that talks between Shotaro Yachi, national security adviser to Abe, and China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi be held in Beijing before Tokyo hosts a summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations in late May.

Tokyo also requested that Yachi meet with members of China's top leadership such as Premier Li Keqiang, just as he did when he visited China last July.

If the meetings are realized, Yachi will take up the global economic situation, hoping to share the view that aggressive fiscal stimulus is key to reviving growth.

Tokyo is hopeful that discussions on the world economy with Beijing will be reflected in talks at a summit of the Group of 20 major economies to be held in Hangzhou, China in September, when Japan hopes Abe can meet Xi. Japan and China chair this year's G-7 and G-20 summits, respectively.

On the South China Sea issue, Yachi will call on China to exercise restraint in the militarization of contested waters in accordance with the concern recently expressed by G-7 foreign ministers.

The G-7 ministers, without mentioning China by name, said that they opposed "any intimidating, coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions" in regional waters.

They also urged all countries "to refrain from such actions as land reclamations including large-scale ones, building of outposts, as well as their use for military purposes and to act in accordance with international law" in their statement on maritime security.

China lodged protests with the G-7 countries -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States -- on April 12, a day after their foreign ministers released the statement.

Beijing claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, a key international shipping route that is also believed to be rich in oil and natural gas deposits as well as fisheries resources.

Despite strong opposition from smaller Asian claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam, and a number of other non-claimant countries, China has pressed forward with a rapid and massive island-building strategy to assert its sovereignty over the waters.

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In an envisaged meeting with Yang, Yachi is also expected to discuss measures to counter terrorism and North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs.

Yachi and Yang last held talks in Tokyo in October, when both sides agreed to promote dialogue between the two countries' leaders and at other levels to further improve bilateral relations.

China took a positive stance on holding the next round of such talks sometime this year during a Japan-China vice ministerial gathering held in Tokyo in late February.

At the same time, China has warned against broaching the South China Sea issue at the G-7 summit, saying doing so would have a serious impact on the bilateral relationship.

This year's G-7 summit is due to take place in the central Japan prefecture of Mie on May 26-27.