China’s top diplomat visits Japan amid regional tensions

(Reuters) – China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is set to visit Tokyo on Tuesday marking the first such high-level trip since Japan picked a new leader in September and amid mounting concerns over Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region.

Wang could make a courtesy call on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has so far sought to balance Japan’s deep economic reliance on China with addressing security worries, including Beijing’s claims over disputed East China Sea isles.

While Suga has steered clear of the harsh anti-China rhetoric used by Japan’s ally the United States, he has moved to counter its influence by deepening ties with Australia and making his first overseas trip to Vietnam and Indonesia.

Japan has also encouraged its companies to diversify their supply chains and reduce reliance on China by bringing production home or moving it to Southeast Asia.

“There are various concerns regarding bilateral relations. As I said, I think it is important to resolve such concerns one by one through high-level talks,” Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters on Friday.

He added he would have a “frank exchange” of views on bilateral relations with Wang, including on how to resume traffic between the two countries during the pandemic.

Japanese media reported that Motegi would also raise concerns about China’s beefed-up activity in the East China Sea.

Despite the tensions, both sides have taken steps to bring the two countries closer.

Earlier this month, China signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with other 14 economies including U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, but the United States was not party to the deal.

It was the first multilateral trade deal for China, the first bilateral tariff reduction arrangement between Japan and China, and the first time China, Japan and South Korea have been in a single free-trade bloc.

Wang will fly to South Korea after Japan, for talks that will include North Korea.

Experts said Wang’s diplomacy could help lay the groundwork for a trilateral summit with Japan and South Korea, with an eye on a free trade deal between the three countries to build on RCEP.