The governments of Japan and China are considering delaying Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Japan, which had been tentatively scheduled for early April, Sankei Shimbun learned from multiple Japanese and Chinese diplomatic sources on Saturday, February 29.
The two sides are acutely aware of how the continuing spread of the novel coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province, has seriously impacted the daily lives of citizens of both countries. They have determined that conditions now are not appropriate for the official visit to go ahead as planned.
It now seems likely that the timing of Xi’s Japan visit will be adjusted in light of changing conditions. However, the trip will most likely take place sometime in autumn, after the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have concluded.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe directly extended the invitation for President Xi to visit Japan when the two met in June 2019 during the Osaka Group of 20 Summit.
Abe said at the time, “It would be good if President Xi could come to Japan when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, so we can raise Japan-China ties to the next level.” Xi reportedly replied, that it was an “excellent idea.”
Since then, the two governments had been preparing for the visit to take place in the first part of April. Xi would thereby become the first Chinese president to visit Japan on a state visit since his predecessor Hu Jintao did so in May 2008.
Need for More Time Due to Disruptions from Coronavirus
However, the spread of the coronavirus has caused major disruptions in political schedules. On February 24, the Chinese government decided to postpone the opening of the National People’s Congress, the highest organ of state power and national legislature for the Peoples’ Republic of China, which had been scheduled to convene on March 5.
It became clear that the Chinese leadership was concerned that, were Xi to travel abroad while there is no end in sight for the coronavirus crisis, it might invite domestic criticism. Consequently, there was growing speculation that Xi’s trip to Japan would be postponed.
Other factors involved in the decision included the fact that the groundwork for the Xi visit had experienced major disruption because of the spread of the coronavirus, and criticism of the state visit by politicians from the ruling party in Japan.
On Friday, February 28, when Abe met with high-ranking Chinese diplomat and Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi at his official residence, the Prime Minister reiterated, “President Xi’s state visit is extremely important for bilateral relations between Japan and China.”
He added, however, “In order to achieve ample results, we need to conduct careful preparations.”
Abe thereby emphasized that the importance of Xi’s visit to Japan is greater than the timing itself. That statement seemed to indicate that a postponement was in the offing.
Proceed with Caution Until Coronavirus Under Control
According to a source with Cabinet experience, still another consideration was the fear that if coronavirus infections were still spreading at the time of Xi’s visit, “conditions would not be right to welcome the top leader of China, the nation where the epidemic originated.” That in turn might elicit more Japanese domestic opposition to the visit.
A Japanese official with the foreign ministry pointed out, “The Chinese side is very cognizant of Japanese public opinion.”
So it seems that both countries would like to proceed cautiously in nurturing an atmosphere appropriate to welcome President Xi when he finally makes his official visit to Japan.
(Click here to read the original report in Japanese.)
Author: The Sankei Shimbun