Chinese President Xi Jinping has told the new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that the two countries can offer each other support as relations “get back on track”.
Friday’s conversation was the first between the pair since Suga replaced Shinzo Abe, who resigned for medical reasons earlier this month. The call did not touch on many contentious areas that dogged relations under Abe, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and their territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, which are also known as the Senkakus.
Nor did they discuss plans for Xi to visit Japan. He had been due to make a state visit earlier this year, but it has been indefinitely postponed as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
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During the telephone conversation, Xi said the two sides should work on areas of common interest, especially during the pandemic, and expressed support for next year’s rescheduled Olympics.
Xi also called on both sides to safeguard stable and smooth industrial and supply chains, as well as an open trade and investment environment, while improving the quality and level of the bilateral cooperation.
“China stands ready to work with the new Japanese government to properly handle key sensitive issues including historical ones, continue to enhance political mutual trust, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation and expand people-to-people exchanges amid efforts to build bilateral relations,” Xi told him, according to the state news agency Xinhua.
However, it remains uncertain how far China and Japan will be able to mend ties as opposition to Xi’s visit has risen since the passage of a national security law in Hong Kong over the summer.
Liu Jiangyong, an international relations professor at Tsinghua University, advised caution and noted: “There was no mention of Xi’s visit to Japan, nor that Abe’s invitation for the visit continues to be valid.”
China-Japan relations: new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga agrees to work with Xi Jinping to boost stability
He said that some factions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were “steadfast followers of Washington‘s China policy,” he said, adding that some LDP official had repeated US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s criticisms of Beijing when opposing Xi’s visit.
Liu continued that Xi had tried to show goodwill by expressing support for the Tokyo Olympics and offering more access to Japanese firms and support fighting Covid-19.
Zhang Jifeng, a researcher with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences specialising in Japanese issues, said the long-standing problems between the countries could not be resolved overnight while Japanese public opinion remained overwhelmingly negative towards China.
“China may have fallen short in some parts but the crust of this negative sentiment comes mainly from public opinion shaped by mainstream Japanese media,” Zhang said.
“I don’t think there is any quick fix for China either apart from focusing on its own priorities.”
This article Xi Jinping hopeful China’s relations with Japan are ‘getting back on track’ first appeared on South China Morning Post