TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan wants China to exert greater leadership in the latest standoff with North Korea and hopes Washington will work to persuade Beijing to do so, Japan’s foreign minister said ahead of a historic U.S.-China summit.
Seiji Maehara also said on Wednesday that Japan was keen for the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, to have good and stable ties for the sake of global stability.
Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in the United States on Tuesday for a four-day state visit in which trade tensions will feature prominently along with other thorny matters, from rebalancing the global economy to dealing with North Korea.
Japan is wary of a neighbouring China’s growing clout and sometimes worries if Beijing and Washington appear to get too cozy, threatening to diminish Tokyo’s role as America’s key ally in Asia.
“For these two countries to have stable and good relations will contribute to the stability and development of the world, so we want the two leaders to discuss issues of concern frankly and have a positive summit,” Maehara, sometimes tipped as a possible next prime minister, said in an interview.
“In particular ... we want China to show greater leadership regarding North Korea, and for that, we have expectations for U.S. influence,” Maehara added.
Tensions between the two Koreas rose sharply last year after the South accused the North of sinking one of its warships and the North shelled a South Korean island.
Pyongyang also unveiled a uranium enrichment programme, possibly opening a second route to making a nuclear bomb.
Maehara also said Japan would not provide economic assistance to North Korea without a comprehensive resolution to the problems of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes as well as the fate of Japanese kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago.
Energy aid to the North is a key part of a 2005 deal among the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia under which Pyongyang would abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for aid. China wants to resume those six-party talks, but Washington, Seoul and Tokyo want concrete action by the North first.
Maehara, often seen as a hardliner toward China in the past, trod a carefully balanced line between calling for good ties while voicing concerns about its military build-up.
“I want to make this year a year to push further for forward-looking Japan-China ties. At the same time, it is important to say things firmly on issues of our concern.”
Maehara said Japan wanted to see an early agreement on the joint development of gas fields in disputed waters of the East China Sea. The two countries agreed in principle in 2008 to jointly develop the gas fields but progress has been slow.
“With regard to the development of gas fields in the East China Sea, despite the fact that there has been an agreement, progress is not being made so we want to reach an early agreement on joint development,” Maehara said.
He said the United States and Japan were working to update common strategic objectives agreed on in 2005 to address a changing regional security environment, including possible missile attacks and terrorism.
“The environment surrounding the Asia-Pacific region has of course changed and it is very important to create common strategic objectives that fit (that environment),” he said.
Asked if China’s growing military strength was a factor, he said: “China is one of the main countries (in the Asia-Pacific region). We are paying close attention to the trend of China’s military power.”
Japan’s ties with its closest security ally, Washington, were frayed last year by a feud over plans to relocate the Marines’ Futenma airbase on the southern island of Okinawa and efforts by the ruling Democratic Party, which took power for the first time in 2009, to forge a more independent diplomatic stance.
But the rise in tensions on the Korean peninsula and China’s growing military clout and naval reach have convinced Tokyo of the need to repair ties with Washington.
Additional reporting by Shinji Kitamura, editing by Jonathan Thatcher