Multilayered dialogue necessary to avoid potential clash

It is important to foster a conciliatory atmosphere, but trust will not be created unless it is demonstrated through action. Japan needs to tenaciously engage in dialogue with China and urge it to change its hegemonic activities.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Thailand. They agreed to continue communicating and developing stable Japan-China relations.

This was the first in-person meeting between the leaders of Japan and China in about three years. Xi’s state visit to Japan had been scheduled for the spring of 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Relations subsequently cooled as China pursued authoritarian diplomacy.

The two leaders might have hoped to use the meeting as an opportunity to restore relations on the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries. It was symbolic that they were smiling when they shook hands before the meeting.

It appears that the Chinese side also wanted to ease tensions with Japan amid worsening relations between the United States and China. According to sources, discussions during the meeting were on the same wavelength.

However, that does not mean progress was made on various pending issues concerning China.

Chinese vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. As recently as Nov. 12, two China Coast Guard vessels entered territorial waters in the area. In August, China conducted a large-scale military exercise near Taiwan and fired missiles into Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

It is no surprise that the prime minister expressed “grave concern” at the meeting about China’s attempts to unilaterally change the status quo.

In response, Xi reportedly objected China does not “accept any excuses by anyone to interfere in its internal affairs,” concerning the Taiwan issue. Regarding the Senkaku Islands, the Chinese president was quoted as saying, “It is essential to abide by the principles and common understandings that have been reached.”

Xi’s use of the expression “common understanding” is seen as a reference to a 2014 agreement that states Japan and China “have different views” on the Senkaku Islands. Xi probably intends to claim that the islands are China’s territory and to make the intrusions a fait accompli.

The Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory both historically and under international law. China’s actions run against international norms.

The two leaders also agreed to establish a hotline between defense authorities at an early date. It is an urgent task to establish a system of communication to prevent accidental clashes between the Self-Defense Forces and the Chinese military.

The leaders also concurred on deepening economic cooperation. China is Japan’s largest trading partner. It is in the interests of both sides to pursue mutually beneficial relations.

Excessive debt in the recipient countries of China’s overseas investment has emerged as a problem. Japan should assess the transparency of projects and approach China to encourage investments that contribute to the growth of developing countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 19, 2022)