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Interview

China's new Tokyo envoy stresses shared responsibility on trade

Japan hand Kong urges Belt and Road cooperation and supports Abe-Kim meeting

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, China's next ambassador to Japan, answered questions from reporters Friday in fluent Japanese.

BEIJING -- China's incoming ambassador to Japan expressed hope Friday for cooperation amid Beijing's intensifying trade war with the U.S., saying the two Asian countries share "the great responsibility of maintaining the free trade order."

Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou spoke with Japanese media here Friday, answering questions in fluent Japanese.

With the two countries standing "at a new starting line," Kong said he hopes to "think hard and work with everyone in Japan with the goal of building a new China-Japan relationship."

As its trade war with the U.S. goes on with no end in sight, China looks to build closer relationships with its neighbors, including Japan, to strengthen its position. Beijing has advocated multilateral trade and expressed support for reform at the World Trade Organization. Premier Li Keqiang in March called for the speedy conclusion of a three-way free trade agreement being negotiated by China, Japan and South Korea.

Kong stressed China's massive Belt and Road infrastructure initiative as a focus of economic cooperation with Japan. He noted that Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Belt and Road summit last month in Beijing.

"I hope this will serve as an opportunity for [Japan] to participate in the Belt and Road more actively and with a clearer stance," Kong said.

Kong also touched on the upcoming Group of 20 summit in Osaka late next month, where Xi will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the first trip to Japan by a Chinese leader since 2010.

"I want to actively support Japan in its role as host to ensure a successful G-20 summit," Kong said.

Kong, 59, hails from China's Heilongjiang Province and studied Japanese at Shanghai International Studies University before entering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served as a diplomat in Japan for more than a decade and is known as one of the ministry's leading experts on the country.

The new envoy, who is of ethnic Korean descent, has also served as special representative on Korean Peninsula affairs since 2017 and has connections in North Korea. Kong said Friday that he supports Abe's offer to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions.

"I hope [Japan] will play an appropriate, constructive role" in dealing with issues on the peninsula, he said.

As ambassador, Kong will also communicate with the Japanese government to coordinate diplomatic events, such as the annual Japan-China-South Korea summit, to be hosted by China this year.

Kong will replace current Ambassador Cheng Yonghua. During his unusually long nine-year stint, Cheng faced a nadir in bilateral relations with Japan's 2012 nationalization of the Senkaku Islands, claimed by China as the Diaoyu.

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