Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday last week met with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at an APEC summit in Thailand. The meeting made front-page news in Japan the following day.
Three years ago, when then-Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visited Beijing to meet with Xi, no one questioned Abe’s attitude toward China, as the conservative parties in Japan had been spearheaded by Abe.
However, Kishida could easily be labeled as pro-China, as he hails from Hiroshima — a place known for its anti-war, anti-nuclear movements — and was once the director of the Japan-China Friendship Association of Hiroshima. To avoid criticism, Kishida has been extra careful about his engagement with China.
To reverse his low approval ratings, Kishida has offered an olive branch to China for setting up the meeting. On Aug. 17, Kishida sent Japanese National Security Secretariat Director-General Takeo Akiba to meet Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) in Tianjin to express a willingness to meet Xi in Bangkok.
In September, Japan and China commemorated the 50th anniversary of the normalization of their ties. On Oct. 11, the Japanese government recognized China’s domestically made vaccines. On Oct. 25, Kishida sent a congratulatory message to Xi for securing a third term. This month, the Japanese embassy in Beijing held another commemoration. The cozying up to China has been obvious.
Without Russian President Vladimir Putin at the APEC summit, Xi received the most attention, and many leaders and officials had asked to meet with him. The Chinese government deliberately created an atmosphere that made it seem that all countries were eager to connect.
Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported that it was only a week before the APEC summit that China informed Japan of the possible meeting. Japan then took the initiative and announced the news, whereas China nonchalantly confirmed it only a day before the summit.
Moreover, the meeting was held at a hotel where Xi was staying. Beforehand, Xi had met with more than 10 leaders including those of the US, South Korea and Australia. Showing off its strength, China essentially gave Japan the cold shoulder.
Kishida’s meeting with Xi lasted only 45 minutes, whereas a meeting with US officials lasted about three hours. The difference is telling. Kishida expressed “grave concern” to Xi about China’s aggression around the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan — and Chinese missile launches around Japan’s territorial waters. Kishida also emphasized the “significance of peace and safety in the Taiwan Strait.”
To Kishida’s comments, Xi replied: “The Diaoyu Islands are China’s inherent territory,” and “the Taiwan question is an internal affair.”
Japan’s Cabinet has been embroiled in a controversy over the Unification Church, and the behavior of government ministers has been causing additional problems. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 situation in Japan escalated again, with about 90,000 daily reported cases this week.
Japan’s Jiji Press conducted a poll showing the approval rating of Kishida’s Cabinet has hit 27.4 percent — lower than what Japanese media call the 30 percent “danger zone.”
Given that Japan’s administration is relatively weak politically, China risks dominating the nation as a “Celestial Empire.”
This is demonstrated by the Japanese prime minister’s meeting with Xi, in which a frail, struggling Kishida visited a composed, high-handed leader. The winner of this diplomatic match could not be more clear.
Wang Hui-sheng is chief director of the Kisei Ladies’ and Children’s Hospital in Japan.
Translated by Liu Yi-hung
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