Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met on the sidelines of the 47th ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Myanmar’s (aka Burma’s) capital city Naypyidaw, and the 4th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, an extension of the ASEAN conference that also includes China and Japan. The two chief diplomats reportedly met in the evening of Saturday, August 9. Both ministers took seats during their – informal – bilateral meeting which ended around 11 p.m. local time, according to a Xinhua report of August 11, apparently quoting Japan’s Kyodo news agency.
The same Xinhua article also quotes an academic from the Chinese ministry of commerce’s research institute who had told Huanqiu Shibao that Wang Yi’s preparedness to have informal talks with his Japanese counterpart showed China’s sincerity and peaceful intentions.
Fumio Kishida made public comments about the meeting on Sunday morning, according to Xinhua quoting Kyodo. It was the first meeting between a Japanese and a Chinese foreign minister after Japanese prime minister had regained office in December 2012.
Last time, then Japanese foreign minister Koichiro Gemba and then Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi held talks in September 2012, according to a Asahi Chinese news article on Sunday. Apparently, this refers to a meeting on September 26, 2012, in New York. At the time, nearly two years ago, Gemba reportedly referred to his talks with Yang as “severe”.
According to the Xinhua article, the meeting took place at Kishida’s request. However, the same article also quotes Japan’s Kyodo news agency as saying that Beijing had been interested in talks between the minister, in the run-up to the APEC summit that is going to be held in Beijing in November. However, if there would be a meeting between Chinese party and state leader Xi Jinping and Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe would still depend on Japan, not least on the issue of the Yasukuni Shrine. If prime minister Abe decided to visit the shrine on August 15 – the day when a Japanese leader usually visits if he decides to do so at all -, Beijing could still change its mind, Xinhua quotes Mainichi Shimbun.
Hong Kong’s Phoenix Media published a Caixin report on Sunday, referring to a “secret visit” to Beijing, made by former Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda. The South China Morning Post (SCMP, Hong Kong) had reported the elder statesman’s visit to Beijing (and his possible meeting with Xi Jinping) on August 1, and the Asahi Shimbun reported on August 3 that Yasuo Fukuda had indeed met the Chinese leader, and that the former prime minister had made use of his personal network in China, rather than of the Japanese foreign ministry, to arrange a meeting.
The Chinese side in particular appears to emphasize the unofficial nature of the meeting, and towards the end of the Xinhua article, Tang Chunfeng (唐淳风), described as a resarcher at a minstry of commerce research institute (and maybe a former official at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo), is quoted as saying that Japan’s leaders needed to understand that Sino-American relations would develop regardless of Japan, as Japan didn’t have the resources to balance those relations.
The Xinhua article is fairly deliberative, by Xinhua standards anyway. After all, it includes Japanese assessments that Beijing, too, might be interested in a Abe-Xi summit. But the appearance of a researcher like Tang Chunfeng is no coincidence. Remarks by Tang open and close the article, and Tang’s closing remarks, besides playing Japan’s international weight down (which should go down well with most Chinese readers and soothe any possible anger), Tang also points out that Japan, while being responsible for the Sino-Japanese tensions, always tries to give the world the impression that “China doesn’t give Japan any opportunities to talk” (唐淳风对《环球时报》说，中日关系紧张的责任在日方，而日方总是试图给外界造成“中国不给日方任何和谈机会”的假象).
According to Radio Japan‘s Chinese service (August 10 podcast, 21:01 JST),
it is believed that Wang Yi, during the meeting, emphasized China’s standard [or consistent] position that China wouldn’t make concessions on these issues [Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands], and hoped that Japan would make concessions.
Also according to Radio Japan, Wang Yi told “this station” (i. e. Radio Japan or NHK) that the meeting had been an informal contact (非正式接触). Radio Japan’s English podcast, posted at the same time as the Chinese one, at 21:01 on Sunday, also contained information about the ministerial meeting but did not mention Wang Yi’s note that the meeting had been informal.
Radio Japan is also informally jammed by China. Domestic Chinese broadcaster CPBS (or CNR) has occupied the afternoon (UTC) frequency of 9540 kHz since July. All the same, there seem to be listeners in China, be it by radio or by podcast. In a tieba forum (The Syria Situation Bar Room), a member posted a transcript of the newscast.
While in Myanmar, Fumio Kishida also met North Korean foreign minister Ri Su Yong and South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se. The only thing Kishida and his South Korean counterpart apparently agreed about was the need to improve relations:
South Korea’s KBS World reports that
In the meeting, which is their first in eleven months, [the South Korean foreignminister] said that if Japan shows sincerity on historical issues and Japan’s wartime atrocities, the two nations could find a breakthrough in improving ties.
The minister also asked Japanese politicians to use wisdom in order to find a way out of the strained ties, mentioning Japanese leaders’ visits to the Yasukuni Shrine and Japan’s recent review of the Kono Statement, a landmark 1993 apology for its wartime use of sexual slavery.
In response, Kishida said that there exist difficult issues between the two nations, but improved ties would provide mutual benefits for both sides.
Maybe unwittingly, maybe intentionally, a picture of the Korean politician and his Chinese, rather than his Japanese counterpart, adorns the KBS news article.