Japan’s new ambassador to China has urged the country to look at the reasons why it has a poor image among many Japanese people and said it remains to be seen whether Beijing can meet the high standards required to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Hideo Tarumi, 59, took up the post in November, two months after Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, took office.
In an interview with Chinese news portal The Paper, Tarumi said the most important thing was to build “stable bilateral relations”.
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“Although our prime minister has changed, the general direction and strategy will remain the same,” Tarumi said. “I believe this is Prime Minister Suga’s diplomatic policy towards China.”
Sino-Japanese relations have long been strained by the legacy of Japan’s wartime occupation of China and an ongoing territorial dispute in the East China Sea, but both sides have been eager to boost their economic and trade relations.
More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic and the introduction of a national security law in Hong Kong, which critics say undermines the city’s freedoms, have fuelled tensions between the two countries.
In the interview, Tarumi referred to a public opinion survey conducted by the Beijing-Tokyo Forum this year, which found that while 45 per cent of Chinese people surveyed had a favourable opinion of Japan, a record high, the number of Japanese people with a favourable view of China had fallen to a new low of 10 per cent.
“In terms of Japanese sentiment towards China, we hope China can look into the reason causing the sentiment. Of course, we are willing to work with China to think about it and make suggestions if necessary,” Tarumi added.
Tarumi also discussed the prospect of China joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), an idea floated by President Xi Jinping after the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which established the world’s largest free-trade area.
“President Xi said China will actively consider joining the CPTPP. But it remains to be seen whether China is ready to meet the higher requirements,” Tarumi said.
The CPTPP includes broad commitments to tariff elimination and on issues such as digital trade and the role of state-owned enterprises, issues that have proved a problem in China’s negotiations with other leading economies in the past.
Meanwhile, China, South Korea and Japan have also been trying to finalise a three-way trade deal.
“China and Japan do have some long-standing problems, but as countries that can make a great impact in the world economy and as engines of prosperity in East Asia, Japan, China and Korea should work together hand in hand towards pragmatic cooperation in response to different global issues,” he said.
The career diplomat, like his predecessor Yutaka Yokoi, belongs to the Japanese foreign ministry’s “China School” of diplomats who underwent Chinese-language training as Tokyo sought to develop its relationship with the emerging power.
He has had four separate postings to mainland China, starting in June 1989, and has also been stationed in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Last week in an interview with Reuters, Japanese Defence Minister Yasuhide Nakayama urged US president-elect Joe Biden to take a similar line on Taiwan as Donald Trump, who has significantly increased military sales to the island – which Beijing regards as a breakaway Chinese province.
Meanwhile, when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Japan in November, Suga called on China to take “positive action” on the contested Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyus in China.
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