Japan-China Summit: Results Sorely Lacking as Only Stance on Mutually Beneficial Ties Confirmed

If Japan and China intend to rebuild their “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests,” Beijing must first change its coercive behavior and stop making unreasonable claims.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping have held a summit in the United States and agreed to promote the mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests in which both Japan and China pursue such interests even if they are at odds over specific issues.

“Japan and China have a responsibility to contribute to world peace and prosperity,” Kishida said. In response, Xi said that both sides should focus on common interests and handle differences in an appropriate manner.

During a 2006 summit, the two countries agreed on pursuing this mutually beneficial strategic relationship, which has become the foundation of their bilateral relations. It is meaningful that Kishida and Xi confirmed the importance of such ties to prevent a further deterioration of relations during their first summit in a year.

The summit, however, did not necessarily lead to progress on a myriad of pending issues.

China, calling treated water released into the ocean from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant “nuclear-contaminated water,” has suspended all imports of marine products from Japan. During the summit, Kishida urged Beijing to calmly respond based on scientific evidence and immediately lift the import ban.

Since the start of the treated water discharge in August, the International Atomic Energy Agency has conducted probes into possible impacts on surrounding marine areas and has confirmed that the water release has not caused any concerns. As the IAEA team included experts from China, the Chinese government also must certainly be well aware of the safety of the treated water.

Kishida and Xi have agreed to have experts from both countries discuss this issue to resolve it, but no specific steps have been decided.

During the summit, Kishida expressed serious concerns about the situation in the East China Sea, which includes the Senkaku Islands. He also demanded that China immediately remove a buoy it placed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone off the Senkakus.

Chinese government vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters off the Senkakus. It is natural that the prime minister protested Beijing’s attempts to unilaterally change the status quo. Xi’s response to the protest has not been made public, however.

The Japanese government must clearly demonstrate its stance of protecting its sovereignty and maritime interests. If China does not remove the buoy, it needs to be dealt with by Japan.

In China, there have been a series of cases in which foreign nationals have been detained on suspicion of having violated its anti-espionage law. The reasons for their detention have not been disclosed, casting a shadow over investment in China by Japanese companies.

Kishida urged Xi to have Japanese nationals detained by China released as early as possible. But regarding this matter as well, Xi’s response has not been ascertained.

Whether the Chinese government is willing to improve relations with Japan can only be determined by its specific actions from now on.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 18, 2023)