Japan moves derail summit

By Wu Gang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Global Times, July 20, 2016
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A formal meeting between the Chinese and Japanese leaders this year to mend their countries' struggling' ties are highly unlikely, given Japan's growing interference in regional tensions in the South China Sea, observers said.

Chinese leaders may meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as hosts in a ceremonial manner during the G20 summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province in September, but whether substantive talks are held remain doubtful, experts told the Global Times Monday.

Japan's Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama began his three-day visit to Beijing on Monday to ease tense China-Japan ties "because of China's maritime activities" and to pave the way for the resumption of dialogues between the two country's leaders, according to a Kyodo News report.

There were no reports about the details of the meetings on Monday as of press time, but the Kyodo News report said Sugiyama was expected to meet with Chinese officials, including his Chinese counterpart Zhang Yesui, and whether Chinese President Xi Jinping would meet Abe during the G20 summit remains uncertain.

"As the host of the G20 summit, it is possible that Chinese leaders would briefly meet other G20 leaders as a friendly gesture," said Jiang Lifeng, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"But a special meeting between Xi and Abe? It won't happen unless Abe drastically changes his attitude toward China, which is very unlikely," Jiang said.

According to Chinese diplomats, Abe had tried to rally countries attending the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator over the weekend to include words in an official statement urging China to respect a recent international arbitration ruling of the Philippines' claims in the South China Sea, but failed, the People's Daily reported.

After fierce diplomatic maneuvering, the summit statement did not directly mention the South China Sea disputes, except to reaffirm a commitment to promote maritime security, safety and cooperation.

This is not the first time Japan has tried to stir tensions on the South China Sea issue at an international event.

The G7 foreign ministers' meeting in Germany issued a Declaration on Maritime Security on April 15, 2015, expressing "concerns" over the East and South China Seas, which was the first time in the G7's 40 years of existence. Japan was believed to be behind the document, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

"For Japan, the South China Sea issue is a card it can play," said Wang Chong, deputy secretary-general of the Charhar Institute, a Beijing-based think tank. "Hyping the issue can harm China's reputation in the international community, and solidify Japan's military alliance with the US."

Similar arbitration case?

Wang said a high-level meeting between China and Japan will likely take place during the G20 summit in Hangzhou, but will only be symbolic.

Wang said a China-Japan-South Korea summit expected to be held later this year could be a better chance for more substantive talks between Chinese and Japanese leaders.

The three countries held a trilateral meeting in Seoul on November 1 last year after the annual meeting was suspended for three years due to a breakdown in Sino-Japanese ties over the Diaoyu Islands dispute in the East China Sea.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also met with Abe that day.

Japan is planning to launch a similar arbitration for the Diaoyu Islands, according to Japanese media reports.

Jiang said it is very likely Japan will take advantage of the Philippines' "victory" in the case, though China stated that it would never accept the ruling nor recognize the arbitration court that issued the ruling.

"Japan and the US have been manipulating the court, which will definitely issue an award that favors Japan, so why wouldn't Japan make use of it?"

Can't lose China

Relations between China and Japan took a nosedive in 2012 after the Japanese government announced it would "nationalize" the disputed Diaoyu Islands.

China has been increasing patrols near the Diaoyu Islands since then to show its sovereignty over the islands and nearby waters.

Japan said it spotted three Chinese coast guard patrol ships near Diaoyu on Monday, the 19th sighting this year, according to Kyodo News.

However, Huang Dahui, director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the Renmin University of China, said the Abe administration has been ambivalent in dealing with China. On one hand, it played a major role in the growing tensions in the South China Sea, but has likewise sought to talk with Chinese leaders to ease tensions, he said.

"Japan can't lose China in the face of lingering economic problems, given the sheer size of bilateral trade and China's role in helping boost Japan's economy," Huang told the Global Times, adding that the country's economic performance will determine how long Abe can stay at the helm of his country, and whether he has the time to eventually fulfill his ambition of changing the pacifist constitution and boost Japan's military clout.

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