Despite major differences, Japan and China want to expand their dialogue and cooperation. In the first visit by a Japanese foreign minister to China in more than three years, Yoshimasa Hayashi and his new Chinese counterpart Qin Gang expressed hope in Beijing that they can overcome difficulties and build stable relations. Both spoke openly about the differences of opinion. Qin Gang urged Japan to have a "correct understanding of China".
The relationship is strained. Japan increasingly views China as a threat and moves closer to the US. "In the face of contradictions and differences, bloc building, shouting and pressure will not help solve the problems, but will only deepen alienation," Qin Gang said in an apparent reference to Japan's alliance with the US. Hayashi's visit was the first visit by a Japanese foreign minister to China since late 2019. It was also the first face-to-face meeting between the foreign ministers of both countries since 2020.
Ahead of the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima, Japan in May and Japan's current G7 presidency, Qin Gang expressed hope that Japan would "rightly set the tone and direction of the meeting." The communist leadership fears that the G7 meeting could also be directed against China. The USA and its allies are accused of wanting to slow down the rise of the world's second largest economy.
China's foreign minister reiterated criticism of Japan's plans to discharge cooling water from the damaged nuclear reactor in Fukushima into the Pacific. It's a matter of people's health and safety, Qin Gang said. Japan should deal with it "responsibly". According to the operator and the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA, however, there should be no danger because the contaminated water is largely filtered.
Relationships strained for several reasons
Relations are also strained over disagreements over China's territorial claims in the East China Sea, Japan's close cooperation with the US and the expansion of Japan's military. Both countries are also at odds over Japan's new restrictions on the export of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, with which Tokyo is following the US example.
During the talks, Foreign Minister Hiyashi also protested against the arrest of an employee of the Japanese pharmaceutical company Astellas on charges of espionage in China and called for his immediate release. His counterpart only replied that China would deal with the case "according to the law".
Discussing Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine, Hiyashi called for China to play a "responsible role" to work towards peace, Kyodo news agency reported. Since the invasion more than a year ago, China has backed Russian President Vladimir Putin, blaming the US and NATO as the main culprits.
Despite all the differences, Japan's foreign minister was received at a high level in China - including by the new head of government, Li Qiang. From China, Hiyashi will travel to Brussels for the NATO deliberations, which will also be attended by his colleagues from other alliance partner countries such as South Korea, Australia and Ukraine.