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International relations

Japan to forgo inviting China's Xi as state guest in June

Trump trip and trade war throw cold water on Tokyo's schedule

Japan was hoping for a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in June, but logistical hurdles stand in the way.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan will likely ditch plans to invite Chinese President Xi Jinping as a national guest in June out of consideration for U.S. President Donald Trump, a vocal critic of Beijing's trade practices who is scheduled to visit the month before.

Tokyo and Washington have already agreed for Trump to come to Japan as a state guest from May 26 to May 28. He will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the new emperor, slated to ascend the throne May 1. Under protocol, Trump will attend a state banquet at the Imperial Palace as well.

Japan was also considering having Xi as a state guest. During his October trip to China, Abe requested that Xi come to Japan sometime in 2019. The idea was for the Chinese leader to extend his June visit here for the Group of 20 summit to hold a state visit.

But hosting two state guests in as many months is logistically difficult. The treatment, reserved for foreign royalty and heads of state, involves a cabinet decision and a welcoming ceremony at the Imperial Palace. Receiving one state guest costs more than 20 million yen ($180,000), according to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, making it impossible to have more than one or two a year.

Sino-American tensions play a role as well -- and not just because of the trade war. Washington has criticized Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei Technologies as a security risk, while the company has sued the U.S. for barring federal agencies from buying its products.

"If we treated Xi and Trump the same, the U.S. would not have been happy," a Japanese official said.

Previous Chinese leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao received state welcomes when they visited in 1998 and 2008. Beijing has demanded the same treatment for Xi.

"As a head of state, it would be difficult for Xi to come to Japan unless he was a state guest," a Japanese Foreign Ministry source said. Tokyo is looking to reschedule his visit for a later time.

The focus is now on what other state guests Japan could host in 2019. The country faces a packed calendar, with the G-20 in June, an upper house election in July, and the Tokyo International Conference on African Development in August. Events tied to current Emperor Akihito's abdication and his son's ascension are also scheduled for spring through autumn.

The prime minister's office and the Imperial Household Agency would need to agree on who and when. Some want to take this opportunity to further Japan's diplomatic agenda, such as through inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin in the latter half of the year. A state visit following a separate summit at the G-20 could further the countries' progress toward a formal peace treaty.

But others are wary of appearing to use the new emperor as a political tool. "State visits are originally intended to further friendships with other countries," a Foreign Ministry official said. The first state guest Akihito received after becoming emperor in January 1989 was Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

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