The visit by President Xi to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been reported for some months. But, amidst unrest in Hong Kong, Japan had faced pressure to rescind the invitation.
Great impact for China and Japan
Since then, and as per Nikkei Asian Review, news of the April meeting has emerged during discussions between Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and Japan’s national security chief, Shigeru Kitamura held in Beijing on December 6.
Wang said, “In principle, President Xi Jinping will make a state visit to Japan next spring,” adding that, “If successfully realized, it will have great impact and significance for China-Japan relations.”
Kitamura reportedly pegged the date saying, “We want to have full bilateral discussions on issues around an April visit to Japan by President Xi.”
China’s vice president, considered to be closest to China’s leader, also added that, “President Xi went out of his way to come and instruct me to meet with Mr. Kitamura by all means,” in reference to the December 6 meeting. Separately, Nikkei Asia Review on December 12 points to President Xi further tasking Wang with improving relations with Japan.
Kitamura, one of Prime Minister Abe’s closest aides said, “the momentum for friendship between Japan and China is becoming extremely powerful.”
Trade agreements may form part of planned discussions
The April meeting would follow a visit by Prime Minister Abe to China already planned for December 23. Wang has confirmed that the two leaders will hold talks during that December meeting.
There are also potential plans for both President Xi and Prime Minister Abe to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on December 24 in Chengdu, China where a trilateral trade agreement could be discussed.
In a potential progression of far more positive China-Japan relations the two leaders met ahead of the G20 summit in Osaka in June. As per SCMP, President Xi said at the time that the two country’s relationship had improved to a level “rarely seen” in years, adding that he believes the “Sino-Japanese relationship is at a new historical starting line.” He also said he “would like to strengthen the high-level strategic leadership together with the prime minister,” and work together to build a “relationship that meets the demands of the new era together.”
Prime Minister Abe reportedly told China’s leader he wished to build ties and create a new era for Asia’s economies. He added the relationship would develop around the principles of a shift from competition to cooperation, developing free and fair trade, and ensuring there was no threat between neighbours.
Japan’s foreign press secretary and official spokesperson for the G20 conference Takeshi Osuga, confirmed in June that Japan would not “be playing the role of mediator between the US and China, but as the third [largest] economy, we have an interest in what’s happening between the number one and number two, and we want things to go well.”
Stronger economic cooperation could result
SCMP also writes that Chinese state media had reported that President Xi and Prime Minister Abe agreed “10 consensus” items including accelerating talks between China, Japan, and South Korea on a free trade agreement, safeguarding peace in the East China sea, and the protection of multilateralism and global free trade.
Some believe that China is keen to build economic cooperation with Japan as its GDP growth slows and the US-China trade war persists.
As well as China, Japan and South Korea have seen pressure from US President Donald Trump over trade and exports. Though perhaps none of the three countries will risk souring US relations, a potentially growing closeness between them could see progress towards the trilateral free trade agreement (FTA) currently in its 16th round of negotiations.