Japan’s foreign minister is planning to visit China this weekend in the first such trip in about three years, Kyodo News and other local media reported, as Asia’s two largest economies seek to maintain stable ties amid rising tensions.
Yoshimasa Hayashi is set to meet his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang during a two-day visit, Kyodo reported, citing government sources it did not name. Asked about the reports in parliament on Wednesday, Hayashi said he was still negotiating dates for the visit.
Long-fraught relations between Japan and China have turned rockier over the past few years, as Tokyo draws closer to the US and aligns itself with the policy priorities of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). China, meanwhile, has strengthened its ties with Russia, with leader Xi Jinping using a three-day visit to Moscow this month to underscore his alignment with President Vladimir Putin.
China’s detention of an employee of Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma Inc triggered the latest spat this week, with Tokyo calling for the release of the man, who China said was being held on suspicion of spying. Some 17 Japanese have been detained in China since 2015, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official told the parliament.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has nonetheless vowed to seek stable ties with Japan’s biggest trading partner. He sought to break the ice at a summit on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Cooperation Forum in Bangkok in November. Kishida also agreed on an early restart to trilateral talks with China during a summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol earlier this month.
Talks between China and Japan on trade and security have been held this year and Hayashi said in November a military hotline with China was set to begin operations in spring. Ships and planes from the two countries constantly chase one another around disputed East China Sea islands, raising concerns about the potential for a clash.