Japan’s trade minister to visit China

Tokyo, February 19:

Japan’s trade minister will visit China in the coming week for talks on economic issues, including gas development in a disputed area of the East China Sea, reports stated.

Japanese minister of economy, trade and industry Toshihiro Nikai will visit China for three days from Tuesday to meet Chinese commerce minister Bo Xilai and other government officials, Jiji Press news agency reported. Nikai, regarded as a pro-Beijing official, will make the visit at the invitation of China, it reported. Tokyo’s ties with Beijing have been strained by Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to a Tokyo shrine which honours Japanese war dead, including World War II leaders condemned as war criminals.

The Japanese side is reportedly seeking a resumption of contacts between Koi-zumi and Chinese president Hu Jintao, as well as their foreign ministers. But Beijing is strongly opposed to any top-level bilateral exchanges because Koizumi — who has promised to step down in September after more than five years in office — refuses to stop his shrine visits.

Jiji and Kyodo News agencies reported Nikai and Bo were to discuss a range of economic issues, including oil and gas development in the East China Sea. The Japanese side earlier proposed joint development of the area straddling both sides of what Tokyo says is the maritime boundary.

China does not recognise the boundary, and tensions rose after Japan said it had spotted flames indicating China had started gas production. Despite the bilateral friction, China is Japan’s major trading partner along with the US, leading much of the Japanese business community to push for an easing of tensions.