China outlines to Japan its conditions to improve relations

On Saturday, Beijing portrayed the visit by Japan's foreign minister as an act of outreach to an angry China.

(Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP)
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, left, shakes hands with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, in Beijing, China, Saturday, April 30, 2016.

China laid out firm conditions Saturday for improved ties with Japan, telling Tokyo's visiting foreign minister that there could be "no ambiguity or vacillation" in meeting Beijing's demands over historical interpretation, relations with Taiwan and other key matters.

Beijing portrayed the visit by Fumio Kishida as an act of outreach to an angry China, as the two sides try to repair relations bedeviled by disputes over territory, history and competition for influence in East Asia.

High-level ties between the two countries have been largely frozen since Japan nationalized a string of uninhabited East China Sea islands claimed by China in 2012, sparking deep anger among Chinese. Mr. Kishida's visit was the first formal one to China by a Japanese foreign minister in more than four years.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Kishida that the ties must be based on "respect for history, adherence to commitment, and on cooperation rather than confrontation."

Relations have gone through "twists and turns in recent years due to reasons best known by Japan," Wang said, adding that China desires "healthy and stable relations" with its neighbor and key economic partner.

Japan needs to "turn its words into deeds," Wang said.

In an elaboration on Wang's comments, the Foreign Ministry quoted him as saying that Japan must adhere to commitments laid down in previous agreements, "face up to and reflect upon the history and follow the one-China policy to the letter," the last part a reference to Beijing's insistence that self-governing Taiwan is Chinese territory.

"No ambiguity or vacillation is allowed when it comes to this important political foundation of the bilateral ties," the ministry quoted Wang as saying.

As part of what the ministry termed a "four-point requirement on improving bilateral ties," Wang also demanded that Japan "have a more positive and healthy attitude toward the growth of China, and stop spreading or echoing all kinds of China threat or China economic recession theories."

Kishida was making the first formal visit to China by a Japanese foreign minister in more than four years, part of an effort to revive a relationship that for years has been economically vital but politically dormant. He also met Saturday with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and senior foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi.

Kishida's spokesman Masato Otaka described the discussions as frank and candid, and said the atmosphere throughout the visit was "forthcoming."

Otaka said he believed ties were on the uptick, partly as a result of increased contacts between leaders of the two sides at multinational gatherings.

"Basically, the two countries are trying to find ways to improve the relationship," Otaka said.

Despite their crucial economic relationship, many Chinese harbor deep animosity toward Japan dating from its brutal invasion and occupation of much of China during the 1930s and 1940s. Meanwhile, distrust toward Beijing runs deep among the Japanese public, who see their country's economic and political influence being overshadowed by a rising China.

China is also deeply critical of Japan's alliance with the U.S. and has warned Tokyo to keep out of a festering dispute over China's moves to cement its claim over virtually the entire South China Sea. Beijing has also lambasted moves by Japanese conservatives seen as whitewashing Japan's militaristic past and minimizing World War II atrocities committed in China and elsewhere.

On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that his country will "absolutely not permit war or chaos" to break out on the Korean peninsula.

Addressing a group of Asian foreign ministers, the comments were made in the context of a wider exploration of China's foreign policy. President Xi also expressed commitment to "comprehensively and fully" implement sanctions targeting North Korea's missile and nuclear programs, as mandated by the United Nations, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

"The big question here is: To whom was this directed?" Michael Auslin, an expert on US-Japan relations at the American Enterprise Institute, says in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

There are four likely candidates, as Dr. Auslin sees it: North Korea, South Korea, the United States, and Japan.

For South Korea, the message might be not to corner its northern neighbor with excessive pressure or threats. For Japan, it could be more along the lines of a warning to keep away, to let China deal with its precocious ally in Pyongyang as well as other security concerns in the region, particularly in light of Prime Minister Abe's efforts to boost the Japanese military.

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