China, Japan vow new starting point
‘Abe may quit in June’
TOKYO, April 16, (Agencies): Asian rivals China and Japan on Monday pledged a “new starting point” for bilateral ties, vowing close co-operation amid a flurry of diplomacy on the North Korean missile threat and global trade tensions.
Welcoming Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi for a rare three-day visit, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe called for warmer relations between the two countries and said they should work together on North Korea.
Abe said he would be visiting the United States for talks with President Donald Trump to seek the “complete and irreversible denuclearisation” of North Korea and added “we want to co-operate with China.”
“We hope to develop a strategic, mutually beneficial Japan-China relationship in various fields,” said Abe.
After meeting Abe, Wang told reporters that Beijing wanted to place “Sino-Japanese cooperation at a new starting point” and cooperate on energy, financial and environmental issues.
Tokyo is battling to stay relevant amid a string of summits on North Korea’s nuclear programme in which Beijing is likely to be a major player.
With this in mind, Japan is pushing to host a trilateral meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Abe said this would be held “after Golden Week”, a series of national holidays that ends on May 6.
Bilateral visits by Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping are also being planned.
China demonstrated its significant influence over its reclusive ally when Xi hosted the North’s leader Kim Jong-un and his wife in Beijing last month.
With Moon and Trump also preparing to meet Kim, reported efforts by Japan to reach out to Pyongyang have gone ignored. Wang said he and Abe spoke about North Korea. “At present, the nuclear issue on the peninsula has clearly eased from a situation of a crippling crisis and has returned to the direction of denuclearisation,” Wang said, reiterating Beijing’s call for a political and peaceful settlement.
Meanwhile, Japan and China are targets of Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs, with Beijing also targeted with a further heavy levy.
Trump could link security with trade:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could find his oft-touted close ties with Donald Trump sorely tested at a summit this week in which Tokyo fears the US leader will to try to link vital security matters with touchy trade topics.
It is a fraught time for both sides, and comes as Trump prepares to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whose government has been openly antagonistic toward Japan.
Abe is struggling with declining popularity because of suspected cronyism scandals. Trump, whose White House is grappling with scandals and investigations of its own, may be hunting for a political win ahead of November midterm congressional elections.
Japan wants Trump to avoid a deal in which Pyongyang gives up ballistic missiles that can hit the US mainland but keeps shorter-range missiles that threaten Japan. Abe also wants Trump to bring up Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang long ago.
At the summit with Trump on Tuesday and Wednesday, Tokyo is equally eager to avoid being pushed into talks on a two-way free trade agreement aimed not only at market access but at monetary and currency policies.
“If Abe brings up abductions and short and midrange missiles, it’s obvious that Trump will say, ‘OK, do something on the economic side,’” said a Japanese ruling party lawmaker well-versed in US-Japan ties, who declined to be identified because the topic and timing are sensitive.
Trump’s ability to give allies policy whiplash was on display last week when he said he’d asked aides to re-open talks on the multinational Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that he abandoned last year. Afterward, he tweeted that the United States would only rejoin if offered “substantially better” terms and urged a bilateral deal with Japan, which “has hit us hard on trade for years!”
Abe may quit in June:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, plagued by suspected cronyism scandals and cover-ups and with his ratings sliding, will likely step down in June, former leader Junichiro Koizumi was quoted on Monday as telling a weekly magazine.
A survey by broadcaster Nippon TV released on Sunday showed Abe’s support had sunk to 26.7 percent, the lowest since the conservative lawmaker took office in December 2012. An Asahi newspaper poll published on Monday put his rating at 31 percent.
Abe’s sliding ratings raise doubts over whether he can win a third three-year term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader in a September vote, that he needs to win to stay in office, or whether he might even resign before the party vote.
Speculation has also emerged that Abe could call a snap general election as he did last October, when his ratings were in a similar slump.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The latest signs of trouble for Abe come ahead of his summit this week with US President Donald Trump, where the difficult topics of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and touchy trade matters will be on the agenda.
“The situation is getting dangerous. Won’t Mr Abe resign around the time parliament’s session ends (on June 20)?” weekly magazine Aera’s online site quoted Koizumi as saying in an interview.
Koizumi — a critic of Abe’s support for nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima crisis — said that if Abe hangs on, it could hurt LDP candidates in an upper house election next summer.
Crowds of protestors demonstrated near parliament on Saturday, holding signs saying “Abe is Over” and chanting “Abe quit!” Organisers said 50,000 had participated by the time the demonstration ended.
Abe last week denied again that he had intervened to ensure preferential treatment for educational institution Kake Gakuen, run by his friend Kotaro Kake, to set up a veterinary school.
He has also repeatedly denied that he or his wife intervened in a heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to another school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, with ties to his wife.