Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda headed to Beijing yesterday on an official visit expected to focus on regional security after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Noda will hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) during the visit, his first since coming to power in September.
Ties between the two regional powers have been dogged by economic and territorial disputes. Japan has repeatedly expressed concern over China’s widening naval reach in the Pacific and over what it calls the “opaqueness” of Beijing’s military budget.
However, Kim’s death has shifted the agenda to global worries about nuclear-armed North Korea, where Kim’s untested young son, Kim Jong-un, appears to be taking the reins of the Stalinist state.
“I would like to hold discussions so as to deepen the strategically mutually beneficial relations between Japan and China,” Noda told reporters in Tokyo before departing for Beijing. “I would also like to make sure that Japan and China will work closely so that the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula will not be negatively impacted.”
Analysts say China holds the key to handling North Korea, where Japan has few ties overall and fewer still to Kim Jong-il’s son.
Japan, having no ties with the North, can do little other than support China’s engagement with Pyongyang, said Takehiko Yamamoto, professor at Waseda University.
“You might call it an achievement if Japan and China only confirm their joint resolve to work together to protect peace and stability in northeast Asia including on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) last week held telephone talks with his counterparts in the US, South Korea, Russia and Japan as Beijing seeks to ensure stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Efforts to revive six-party negotiations on scrapping the North’s nuclear program are also likely to be on the agenda after Seoul’s chief nuclear delegate visited China on Thursday and Friday for talks with his counterpart.
The six-party talks, chaired by China and also involving the two Koreas, the US, Russia and Japan, have been at a standstill since December 2008.
Negotiations to resurrect them appeared to be making progress before Kim Jong-il’s death on Dec. 17. Media reports said Pyongyang would agree to suspend its uranium enrichment program in return for food aid from Washington.
Noda’s overnight visit was set for Dec. 12 and Dec. 13, but rescheduled to yesterday and today at China’s request, apparently for domestic reasons, which some suggested were to do with its falling on the Nanjing Massacre anniversary.
The two countries are also expected to discuss issues including territorial and energy field disputes in the East China Sea.
Japan will urge China toward a framework dialogue to set rules for the development of gas fields in the East China Sea, near disputed islands called Diaoyutai (釣魚台) in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese.