Fumio Kishida and Xi Jinping agreed to try to improve relations between their nations, even as Japan’s prime minister expressed “grave concerns” about China’s military activities in the region.
In their first in-person meeting, a 45-minute encounter late on Thursday in Bangkok, the leaders of Asia’s two largest economies agreed to strengthen communication on security issues. Ties between Tokyo and Beijing have been strained by rising tensions over Taiwan and by their territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu in China.
“I expressed my grave concerns about the situation in the East China Sea, including the Senkaku Islands, as well as China’s military activities including the launch of ballistic missiles,” Kishida said after the meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
“I also reiterated the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Kishida added.
In opening remarks at the meeting, Xi signalled his intention to work with Japan to build “a stable and constructive relationship”.
“The significance of relations between the two countries has not changed, and will not change,” Xi said. “I am willing to work with you and meet my responsibility as a politician to build China-Japan relations that meet the requirements of the new era from a strategic perspective.”
The first in-person top-level meeting between Chinese and Japanese leaders in three years came as Tokyo finds itself caught in the crossfire of escalating US technology sanctions on China.
Relations between the two Asian countries also worsened in August when China fired five ballistic missiles into Japan’s exclusive economic zone for the first time as part of a show of force conducted after Taiwan hosted a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
China accused Pelosi of violating its claimed sovereignty over Taiwan.
“History, Taiwan, and other major questions of principle involve the basic trust and the foundations of the political relationship between the two countries, and must be seriously honoured and properly handled,” Chinese state media quoted Xi as saying.
While expressing concerns about China’s military activities, Kishida called for co-operation on the economy and green energy initiatives, while Xi said cultural exchanges should be expanded. One Japanese official characterised the mood of the exchange as “generally positive”.
Kishida said the two sides had agreed Russia must not use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, but declined to give details of what Xi said on the issue.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has made repeated warnings about possible use of nuclear weapons as his war in Ukraine falters.
Xi has so far refused to condemn Russia’s invasion, but has drawn praise from US allies for condemning any threatened use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
His meeting with Kishida followed a series of recent diplomatic encounters this week in which he has sought to ease long-strained ties with the US and many of its allies.
This week, Xi and US president Joe Biden met for more than three hours at the G20 summit in Bali, where both signalled a desire to stabilise the two countries’ rocky relationship but made clear their continuing differences over Taiwan.
Additional reporting by Maiqi Ding in Beijing