Dialogue with Chinese Officials Casts Doubt on Beijing’s Sincerity

It was extremely disappointing that it didn’t matter that the foreign ministers of Japan and China met for nearly four hours, because the Chinese side did not show any stance toward resolving pending issues.

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi visited Beijing and held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. It was the first visit to China by a Japanese foreign minister in three years and three months, since the end of 2019.

Hayashi protested the detention of a Japanese man from Astellas Pharma Inc. on suspicion of violating China’s counterespionage law, calling for his early release.

The counterespionage law, in effect, can be applied to any activity that the Chinese authorities judges to be “espionage activity.” In the latest detention, China has not presented any facts about the charges, and this is a clear violation of human rights.

In response to Hayashi’s protests, Qin merely said China would “handle it in accordance with the law.” Suspicion is mounting that China is arbitrarily applying the law. Without presenting what in the Japanese man’s activities violated the law, merely saying “in accordance with the law” can only be described as insincere.

The Japanese government needs to tenaciously demand that China explain the reasons for the detention and release the man. Tokyo should continue efforts to persuade Beijing that it will not gain the trust of the international community if it applies the law in a coercive manner.

The situation in the East China Sea was also on the agenda at the foreign ministers’ meeting. Hayashi expressed “serious concerns” about repeated intrusions into territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands by China Coast Guard vessels.

However, even while the foreign ministers were meeting, an unbelievable incident was occurring.

From March 30 through the night of April 2, China Coast Guard vessels remained in Japan’s territorial waters. The continuous presence of at least one such vessel exceeded 80 hours, the longest since the Senkaku Islands were nationalized in 2012.

The intrusion raises doubts as to whether China has any serious intention of improving relations with Japan.

For Hayashi’s visit, the Chinese government set aside time for him to meet with Premier Li Qiang and Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat and a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. It may appear as if China gave Hayashi the red-carpet treatment, but this is meaningless if pending issues are not addressed.

If China wants to make progress in economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges between the two nations, it is essential for Beijing to listen to Tokyo’s arguments to foster a relationship of trust.

Continuing dialogue at a high level is important. At the same time, as China threatens Japan’s sovereignty, strengthening defense capabilities is also an important challenge for Japan.

The Ground Self-Defense Force has opened a camp on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture and deployed a surface-to-ship missile unit and surface-to-air missile unit. The deployment on Ishigaki Island follows the deployment of troops on the islands of Yonaguni and Miyako, finally putting in place the defense system for the Nansei Islands.

The Air Self-Defense Force has its main base in the region at Naha Airport. All three forces of the SDF need to jointly hold repeated drills to enhance deterrence.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 4, 2023)