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International relations

Xi's Japan visit not at planning stage yet, says new envoy to China

Tokyo's ambassador Tarumi cautious toward Beijing joining TPP

Hideo Tarumi, Japan's new ambassador to China, holds a news conference in Beijing on Dec. 11.   © Kyodo

BEIJING -- Tokyo's new ambassador to Beijing said on Friday that the two sides have yet to reach the point of setting a date for Chinese President Xi Jinping's long-postponed visit to Japan.

"We are not at the stage of discussing a concrete schedule," Hideo Tarumi said here during his first news briefing since taking the post last month.

Xi was due to arrive in Japan as a state guest in April 2020, becoming the first Chinese leader to make such a trip in over a decade. But the coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans, and the visit has yet to be rescheduled.

In the interest of pursuing warmer bilateral relations, "I will assert what needs to be asserted," Tarumi said. "I look forward to building relations that are fair, stable and constructive."

Xi said in November that China would "favorably" consider joining the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, of which Japan is a member.

"The TPP demands very high levels in terms of market access and rules," Tarumi said, a response suggesting the need to carefully assess whether China meets the criteria to join the pact.

"It would be out of the question to bend the rules and insert exceptions" for China, Tarumi added.

The veteran diplomat is part of the "China school" of experts in Japan's Foreign Ministry, who speak Mandarin and have an extensive network of relationships within China.

Tarumi is known to be close to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, as well as to Toshihiro Nikai, the powerful secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and one of the most pro-China figures in Japan's leadership. Tarumi served as Nikai's liaison at the ministry, coordinating a 2015 trip to China when the LDP official chaired the party's General Council.

Tarumi also discussed the record number of incursions made by Chinese government vessels into waters near the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands. Beijing claims the islands as the Diaoyu.

Tarumi pledged to work diligently to resolve the situation, which he called "completely unacceptable."

"Japan has sovereignty [over the Senkakus] both historically and in terms of international law," he said.

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