China urges Japan to work with it to improve strained relations

Japan’s foreign minister Taro Kono makes his first official visit to Beijing

Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono and China’s foreign minister Wang Yi meeting in Beijing. Photograph: Getty Images

Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono and China’s foreign minister Wang Yi meeting in Beijing. Photograph: Getty Images

 

China has urged regional rival Japan to work with it to get strained relations between the two Asian giants back on to a normal track, as Japan’s foreign minister Taro Kono made his first official visit to Beijing.

China and Japan are the world’s second and third biggest economies, and relations have been tense for many years over numerous issues, in some cases dating back to Japan’s invasion and subsequent occupation of China in the 1930s.

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi urged Mr Kono to make joint efforts to bring bilateral ties “back to the track of sound development”.

“Your visit to China at the beginning of the year shows the Japanese government’s strong willingness to improve bilateral ties,” Mr Wang told his Japanese counterpart, who is making his first China visit as Japanese foreign minister.

Issues between the two countries include what China sees as Tokyo’s failure to properly atone for second World War atrocities and a dispute over islands in the East China Sea.

Both China and Japan claim a group of islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, to whom they officially belong, and the Diaoyu Islands in China.

Recent weeks have seen tensions revived after Chinese coast guard vessels passed through what Japan considers its territorial waters surrounding the disputed islands.

“At present Sino-Japanese relations are at a crucial stage. There is positive progress, but many disturbances and obstacles remain,” Mr Wang told reporters in Beijing.

Japanese war dead

Other issues stretch back further. Japanese president Shinzo Abe has visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honours 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including war criminals, and this has also complicated relations.

China and Japan are marking the 40th anniversary of the signing of a peace and friendship treaty between the two countries.

Mr Wang urged Japan “not to slack or fall back, and work together with China to meet each other halfway”.

“To improve and develop China-Japan relations meets the interests of both sides, and common aspirations of various circles of the two societies,” Mr Wang said.

He said Tokyo and Beijing needed to work together on broader issues too, such as the North Korea nuclear issue.

Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile over the Japanese island of Hokkaido last year, and Tokyo has long sought more Chinese assistance in reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Last week Mr Abe said Japan was willing to promote the relationship in a policy speech.

Ill-tempered handshake

Mr Abe and China’s president Xi Jinping have yet to exchange official visits, which is largely down to the row over the islands. In 2014 they exchanged a famously ill-tempered handshake.

Mr Kono said Japan and China shared a major responsibility in safeguarding the stability and prosperity of Asia and the world at large.

“Not only do we need to manage our bilateral relations, but we also need to work together to deal with issues facing the entire globe, in particular the issue of North Korea, which is the matter at hand for the international community as a whole,” Mr Kono said.

Later in his visit Mr Kono will meet senior foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi, and visit top leaders, possibly including Mr Xi.