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Former Japan PM secures secret meeting with Xi in Beijing
Publication Date : 05-08-2014
Former Japanese premier Yasuo Fukuda managed to secure a secret meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing recently as Japan stepped up efforts to improve bilateral ties ahead of the Apec summit in November that Beijing is to host.
Reports said both sides were working towards a possible meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Xi on the fringe of the Apec summit.
The meeting with Fukuda was Xi's first in a long while with a key Japanese political figure, suggesting a change in the Chinese leader's attitude towards Japan.
In their meeting, Fukuda reportedly conveyed Abe's wish for a dialogue with the Chinese leader.
Abe and Xi have not held a summit since Abe came to power in December 2012 due to tensions arising from the dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu and also claim, and the Japanese leader's visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine.
Several times, Abe had asked to meet Xi but the Chinese had rejected his public overtures.
Xi was said to have told Fukuda that he would like to find a way out of the present stalemate, but he also said that as long as Abe does not change his stand on the Senkakus or Yasukuni, a meeting would be difficult.
Beijing wants Abe to acknowledge the existence of a territorial dispute and to stop visiting Yasukuni.
The use of former prime minister Fukuda to sound out the Chinese underlies Abe's willingness to explore all means to break the standoff in ties as official channels have so far failed.
The choice of Fukuda is not surprising as he has many personal contacts in China.
It was during his tenure as premier that then Chinese president Hu Jintao visited Japan in May 2008.
Fukuda is currently also chairman of the Boao Forum for Asia, a China-backed event held annually on Hainan Island.
Takashi Sekiyama, director of the Sasakawa Japan-China Friendship Fund, a private-sector body that promotes ties between the two countries, said there was at best only a "50-50 chance" right now that the Abe-Xi talks will take place.
Xi's recent change in attitude towards Japan could be due to the huge drop in Japanese investments to China in the first half of this year.
"The drop hit the Chinese economy very hard, especially in local regions that were counting on Japanese investments," said Sekiyama, who is also an expert on China.
"Moving closer to Japan could be politically fatal as Xi has made many enemies through his anti-corruption drive," he said.
He explained that Xi's enemies could accuse him of giving in to Abe.
"But there is a lot of time till November for him to study Abe and make his calculations," he added.
In Beijing, experts said a Xi-Abe meeting was unlikely to happen, given the current state of relations.
Professor Li Wei, chief Japan expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top government think-tank, told The Straits Times that China hopes to improve ties with Japan.
However, this can be done only after certain pre-conditions are met that can help repair the "political fundamentals" between the two neighbours.
"At this moment, we are not sure if Abe is committed to this because he has only asked for the meeting without addressing the conditions, so it's still empty talk," she said.
"But there are still three months to Apec. So we cannot entirely rule out the possibility of talks."
- See more at: http://www.stasiareport.com/the-big-story/asia-report/china/story/former-japan-pm-secures-secret-meeting-china-president-xi-beij#sthash.fkHw3IVd.dpuf