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International relations

Xi has first call with Suga; no mention of Japan visit

Japanese leader stresses importance of stable bilateral relationship

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga spoke by phone on Friday. (Source photos by Reuters and Karina Nooka)

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Chinese President Xi Jinping did not discuss Xi's postponed state visit to Japan in their first telephone conference Friday evening, Suga told reporters.

The two leaders agreed to coordinate on a high level, including person-to-person, on both bilateral and international problems, according to Suga. Xi also congratulated him on becoming prime minister, the 71-year-old new leader said.

Xi was supposed to travel to Japan in April. But the visit -- which involved months of planning and was hailed as a potential turning point in Sino-Japanese relations -- was postponed in March owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

Suga, who took office Sept. 16, said he told Xi that "stable relations between Japan and China are extremely important not only bilaterally" but also for the wider world. 

"Going forward, I want to thoroughly discuss issues that are of high interest to the region and the international community," he said.

Japanese government sources said that Suga was referring to tensions in the East China Sea -- mainly over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which China claims as the Diaoyu Islands -- and Beijing's new national security law for Hong Kong.

Chinese government ships probed waters around the Senkakus for more than 100 straight days this summer. The sources did not say whether Suga mentioned the Senkakus in his call with Xi.

China's Xinhua News Agency reported that Xi told Suga he is ready to join hands with him to promote new development in the two countries' relationship.

"China stands ready to work with the new Japanese government to properly handle key sensitive issues including historical ones, continue to enhance political mutual trust, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation and expand people-to-people exchanges," Xinhua reported Xi as saying.

Noting that China and Japan are "crucial close neighbors and partners for each other," Xi pointed out that "constantly expanding common interests for the benefits of the two peoples is the essential need of the new era for China-Japan relations," Xinhua said. 

Xi also said that China supports Japan in hosting a successful Olympic Games.

Some members of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party have urged the government to cancel plans for Xi's state visit in light of the Senkaku and Hong Kong situations. Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, the government's top spokesperson, told a news conference before the Suga-Xi call that "we are a not at a point where we can discuss a specific itinerary" for a visit. 

Friday's talks marked the first telephone conference between Xi and a Japanese prime minister since May 2018. Suga spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the same day. 

Suga held telephone talks with 10 world leaders and heads of international organizations in the first 10 days after he took office.

He kicked off his diplomatic activity on Sept. 20. His first call was to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, followed by U.S. President Donald Trump. Talks with neighbors China and South Korea came a week after his becoming prime minister.

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