Top China envoy makes rare Japan visit as Asian powers mend ties

TOKYO • China’s foreign minister is making a rare visit to Tokyo, in a sign of improving cooperation between Asia’s two largest economies as they face policy whiplash from the US over trade and security.

Foreign Minster Wang Yi’s trip yesterday to meet Japanese counterpart Taro Kono was the first of its kind in more than eight years.

Japan is keen to confer with its neighbour ahead of a summit between the two Koreas and a potential meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. China’s bid to repair relations comes as the US threatens

trade sanctions and a renewed emphasis on Taiwan ties.

“For Shinzo Abe’s administration, China is essential to effectively pressuring North Korea,” said Madoka Fukuda, a professor of global politics at Hosei University in Tokyo.

China is motivated by a lack of transparency in US policy making, as well as tougher American security and trade stances, she added.

Prime Minister Abe is set to meet Trump in Florida this week, where he plans to press the president to maintain a hard line on North Korea and seek to persuade him to take a more multilateral approach to trade.

A poll published in December found a marked fall in the percentage of respondents in Japan and China who saw ties between the two countries negatively. Still, few see the relationship as good.

On the agenda for yesterday’s talks were preparations for a May trip to Japan by Premier Li Keqiang. Abe has expressed hopes the exchanges will presage a return to regular reciprocal visits between leaders of the two countries.

A high-level Japan-China economic dialogue resumes today, amid concerns in both countries about the potential for a trade war sparked by the

US. The Chinese are seeking Japanese cooperation on US steel and aluminium tariffs implemented last month, Kyodo News reported Saturday, citing people close to the talks.

Trump threw fresh confusion into trade negotiations last Thursday by instructing advisors to review the possibility of returning to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. The TPP includes 11 Pacific-Rim nations, but not China.

Successful visits by Wang and Li would provide positive publicity at a crucial time for Abe. Recent polls show public support for his Cabinet has fallen below disapproval. — Bloomberg