Japan’s new foreign minister said Friday he would work to patch up ties with China, soured over a bitter territorial row that has blighted relations for months.
“I believe it is very important to have good communication between the two governments, as well as between two foreign ministers,” Fumio Kishida said in an interview with journalists.
“It is primarily important that I, as foreign minister, make the effort to deepen communications between the two countries,” he said.
Kishida, seen as a relative dove in the government of hawkish new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, begins the top diplomatic job as ties with China show few signs of improving following an ill-tempered territorial stand-off.
Abe won conservative support in national polls earlier this month with his forthright pronouncements on a group of East China Sea islands that Tokyo controls, vowing not to budge on Japan’s claim to the Senkaku chain.
China also lays claim to the islands, which it calls the Diaoyu.
Additionally, Abe has said he would consider revising Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution, alarming officials in Beijing and Seoul.
But he has quickly toned down the campaign rhetoric and has said he wants improved ties with China, Japan’s biggest trading partner. He called for a solution through what he described as “patient exchanges”.
“I am aware that some view the new Cabinet as right-leaning,” Kishida said. “As a state, we need to do whatever we need to do to construct firm national security.”
Kishida, 55, a former banker who leads a liberal faction in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was an unexpected pick by Abe.
However, his experience as a state minister in Abe’s cabinet during his first prime ministerial incarnation, dealing with territorial disputes with Russia and in Okinawan affairs, proved a plus.
Japan and Russia have never signed a post-Second World War peace treaty because of an unresolved spat over the ownership of islands to the north of the archipelago.
In Okinawa, the presence of a large number of US military personnel is a major source of contention for the local population, but a vital strand of Tokyo’s defence pact with Washington.