Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with President Xi Jinping of China at a hotel in San Francisco on November 16. Both leaders were there to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, Summit. The Kishida-Xi meeting was the first between the two men since November 2022. It lasted some 65 minutes with simultaneous interpretation. However, Xi made no move to address any of the top issues plaguing Japan-China relations.
One such issue is China’s arbitrary detention of Japanese nationals under its amended counterespionage law. Another is the situation in the East China Sea, including the Senkaku Islands. Japan’s third concern is China’s increased military activities around Japan, including its cooperation with Russia.
Unfortunately, there was not the slightest movement towards solving these vexing bilateral issues.
The two leaders confirmed the “broad direction of building a constructive and stable Japan-China relationship.” They also discussed the comprehensive promotion of mutually beneficial strategic relations. However, in light of the failure to bridge the gap between the two countries, the meeting cannot be viewed as a success.
Prime Minister Kishida (second from the front on the left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (third from the front on the right) held a bilateral summit on November 16 in San Francisco. (© Pool photo via Kyodo)
Laying Out the Issues
Prime Minister Kishida urged President Xi to adopt a calm, scientifically-based response to the release of treated water from TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station into the ocean and immediately remove restrictions on the import of Japanese food products.
He also conveyed Japan’s serious concerns about the situation in the East China Sea, including China’s increasing military activity in the area. Kishida demanded the immediate removal of Chinese maritime buoys placed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone around the Senkakus.
The Prime Minister also requested the early release of Japanese nationals being detained in China. Moreover, he stressed the importance of “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
A Chinese Coast Guard vessel (in the center) intruded into territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa. Meanwhile, a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat was on guard following it. (©Nakama, Hitoshi City, Ishigaki, Okinawa)
China’s Wall of Aggression
Xi chose to refer to the treated water as “nuclear-contaminated water,” a term that does not correspond to the facts. He also deflected the discussion of the Taiwan issue by saying, “Japan should do nothing to undermine the foundation of Sino-Japanese relations.”
Unless China changes its unyielding attitude towards Japan, the harsh perceptions towards China among the Japanese people, including the business community, are not likely to change.
As our two East Asian countries are separated by only a strip of water, we would naturally like to see Japan and China building friendly relations. But the reality is that our bilateral relationship continues to cool. And that is due to China’s behavior. Xi needs to change his nation’s stance of trying to assert itself by brandishing its military and economic power.
People protest against Chinese President Xi Jinping on the day of the APEC CEO Summit in San Francisco, on November 15, 2023. (©REUTERS by Loren Elliott)
Deterring China’s Global Intransigence
During the meeting, Kishida raised concerns about the human rights situation for the Uyghurs of Xinjiang Province as well as conditions in Hong Kong. The conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East were also discussed.
It is concerning that the Prime Minister did not offer any explanation about these issues in the comments he made to reporters after the meeting. Japan is a nation that places great emphasis on human rights and is currently the G7 chair. We would hope that the Prime Minister would speak and act accordingly.
The meeting showed that President Xi remains intransigent. That being so, while continuing to engage in dialogue with Beijing, Japan needs to work with the United States, and other allies and like-minded countries to improve deterrence against China.
(Read the editorial in Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun