Japan and China agreed during their high-level economic dialogue Sunday on steps that could pave the way for the lifting of a prolonged ban on Japanese beef by Beijing, in the latest sign of a recent improvement in ties between the Asian powers.
The one-day ministerial meeting, co-chaired by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, dealt with a range of economic issues, including Beijing’s intellectual property theft that has developed into a tit-for-tat tariff war between the United States and China.
“We have voiced the Japanese side’s concerns over forced technology transfers and over the protection of intellectual property rights,” Kono told reporters after the gathering at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.
But he said the two countries broadly agreed to sign a quarantine pact that is a precondition to bringing an end to China’s import ban on Japanese beef, imposed in 2001 when the first Japanese case of mad cow disease was detected.
“It’s an important step” toward lifting the ban, Kono said, noting the pact would be signed “soon” without giving a concrete timeline.
The economic dialogue, the first to be held in China since 2010, came about two months before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s possible visit to Japan when it hosts this year’s summit of Group of 20 major economies in Osaka. If realised it will be Xi’s first visit to the country since coming to power in 2013.
“Economic cooperation between China and Japan is continuously progressing and having a profound impact on the world,” the Chinese foreign minister said at the outset.
“We should exchange wisdom for the peaceful and stable development of the region and the world,” Wang added.
Kono said at the meeting, “It goes without saying it’s important that the second- and third-largest economies in the world hold constructive discussions on economic ties.”
Six ministers from each country sat together for nearly four hours in a bid to find ways to create a more favourable environment for companies doing business in each other’s country amid worries about an economic slowdown, triggered in part by the ongoing trade war between China and the United States.
During the economic dialogue, Japan also asked China to lift restrictions on imports of Japanese food, introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster due to concerns over radioactive contamination.
In a blow to Japan’s fishery industry, the World Trade Organisation ruled Thursday that South Korea could maintain its import ban on Japanese seafood, reversing an earlier decision that called for the prohibition to be lifted.
Meanwhile, China encouraged Japan to invest in infrastructure projects under Xi’s “One Belt, One Road” development initiative stretching across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
China also expressed concern over Japanese telecommunications firms’ decision to exclude Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp. from contracts amid concerns among some developed countries over security breaches, Kono said.
Japan and China have held the economic dialogue since 2007, though there was an eight-year hiatus as relations sank to a low due to a dispute over the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands and wartime issues.
Japan placed the uninhabited islets in the East China Sea under state control in 2012, drawing the ire of China which claims sovereignty over them and calls them Diaoyu. With relations having since improved, the dialogue restarted with the fourth round last April in Tokyo.
For the fifth round, Japan fielded six members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet including industry Minister Hiroshige Seko, farm Minister Takamori Yoshikawa, Transport Minister Keiichi Ishii, Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada and regulatory reform Minister Satsuki Katayama.
The Chinese team included Commerce Minister Zhong Shan and Miao Wei, minister of industry and information technology.
Kono is scheduled to hold separate meetings with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Wang on Monday.