Beijing blends tough talk with promise of dialogue
Foreign minister takes aim at missile system, lectures Japan
OKI NAGAI, Nikkei staff writer
BEIJING -- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attempted a delicate balancing act at a news conference Wednesday, leery of either stoking international tensions or appearing weak at home during a critical political season.
While expressing hope for a China-U.S. summit, Wang criticized the U.S. and South Korea for the deployment of an anti-missile system. He had harsh words for Japan from a historical context.
The minister spoke in conjunction with the National People's Congress, China's annual legislative session. Asked about tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Wang likened North Korea, which is developing nuclear and missile technology, and the U.S. and South Korea, which are currently engaged in joint military exercises, to "two accelerating trains coming towards each other, with neither side willing to give way."
"The question is, are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?" he asked.
At present, China's priority is "is to flash the red light and apply brakes on both trains," Wang continued, urging both sides to back down. Keeping the peace is particularly important this year, with the Communist Party preparing to choose new leadership this autumn at its twice-a-decade National Congress.
Wang took a similarly measured tone regarding relations with the U.S. Beijing and Washington are "having fruitful communications on realizing exchanges between our presidents," Wang said, suggesting that the leaders' first summit could soon be at hand. He also predicted productive talks when U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits China on March 18, saying the two countries could develop deep understanding and strong ties.
At the same time, Wang urged South Korea to halt the deployment of the U.S. military's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system, which the Chinese military fiercely opposes. "The monitoring and early-warning radius of THAAD reaches far beyond the Korean Peninsula, and it's common knowledge that THAAD undermines China's strategic security," he said. Recent moves by Chinese regulators to close down supermarkets run by the South Korean conglomerate Lotte are viewed by some as a sign of impatience with Seoul over the issue.
The minister also repeated calls on the U.S. not to interfere in disputes between China and its neighbors in South China Sea, and rejected the notion that Taiwan could have legitimate diplomatic relations with any country, saying, "No one and no force can block the eventual and complete reunification of China."
Show of strength
On Japan, the minister's tone was frostier. "This year marks the 45th anniversary of normalized relations between China and Japan, but it also marks the 80th anniversary of the so-called 'Marco Polo Bridge Incident'," which resulted in war between the two nations, Wang said. "We hope all peace-loving people in Japan will make sure their country will head in the right direction in this important anniversary year."
"Of course, we want to improve relations with Japan for the benefit of our two peoples," the minister said. "But first of all, Japan has to adopt the right frame of mind, be sensible and come to terms with the fact of China's development and revitalization."
As China's leadership reshuffle looms, Beijing can afford neither to pick a fight with its neighbor nor to appear too accommodating. Experts in Sino-Japanese relations expect ties to remain chilly but stable for some time to come.
Wang also announced that leaders from more than 20 countries are to attend a May forum in Beijing discussing China's Belt and Road initiative. "With protectionism and unilateralism on the rise," the regional infrastructure network "will help to rebalance economic globalization and make it more inclusive and equitable," the minister said -- a sign of China's ambitions for international leadership at a time when the new U.S. administration is proclaiming an "America First" policy.