Foreign Affairs
Kishida-Xi Meeting: Navigating Diplomatic Challenges

In November, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan and President Xi Jinping held a meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in San Francisco. The meeting was aimed at addressing China’s sluggish economy, and Japan’s priority is to lift the ban on Japanese seafood, which was imposed in August 2023. Japan also aims to resolve the issue of several Japanese businesspersons detained, investigated, or convicted in China under the Chinese espionage law.

However, Beijing did not offer assurances to Tokyo on either issue. Japan also raised other issues such as the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute, Chinese activities in the East China Sea and South China Sea, Taiwan, and human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

The meeting can be considered a success in four aspects. First, both leaders decided to meet in-person after almost a year, despite not meeting earlier in October due to bilateral friction due to the Japanese radioactive water discharge and the Chinese ban on Japanese seafood. Second, the meeting culminated in a shared interest between the two sides on addressing bilateral tensions. On 9 November 2023, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Special Adviser to the Japanese Cabinet Takeo Akiba met in Beijing, and Japan was also reportedly taking initiative to convene a summit meeting between the two leaders.

The Kishida-Xi meeting took place at the highest levels of Japanese leadership, following the revision of Japan’s National Security Strategy (NSS0) in December 2022. The NSS referred to China as the topmost threat, ahead of North Korea. This change is significant as Japan has hesitated to explicitly identify China as its top challenger during the Shinzo Abe era. China sees Japan repeatedly overstepping issues such as Taiwan and the East and South China Seas.

Bilateral economic tensions have hurt both countries, with China concerned that a majority of Japanese businesses are becoming disenchanted with China. According to the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), only 27.7% of Japanese firms are willing to expand their business in China due to China’s slow economy and highhandedness.

The meeting should be seen in the context of US-China relations changing gears, with US Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken visiting China in June 2023 and US Treasury Secretary Jane Yellen visiting China. Xi Jinping also held a four-hour long meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of APEC. Japan has made it clear that it is open to either cooperating or contesting with China, depending on Beijing’s responses and changing major power relations.

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