China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi in Tokyo
China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi in Tokyo, Nov 24, 2020.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met in Tokyo Tuesday with his Japanese counterpart to discuss a variety of issues including the COVID-19 pandemic, its effect on their respective economies and regional concerns over China's growing influence.

Wang’s talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi are the first high-level discussions since Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga took office in September. In-person diplomacy between the two countries, has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a news conference following their talks, while the two diplomats apparently found agreement on a variety of issues, it became clear regional security involving the East China Sea remains contentious.  

Responding to a question regarding disputed islands in the area, Wang referenced “some Japanese fishing boats that do not have knowledge about the truth have repeatedly entered sensitive waters” near the islands. He indicated he intended to stand his ground on the issue, saying “We will certainly continue to safeguard our sovereignty."

But he quickly took a more conciliatory tone, saying it would serve both nations’ long-term interests to continue a dialogue on the issue, adding, "China hopes that with joint efforts from both sides, we can build the East China Sea the sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.”

Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been strained over the disputed islands. But the two nations have improved economic ties in recent years, as trade issues between the U.S. and China have heated up.  

The two leaders agreed to “fast track” a resumption of business travel between the two nations by the end of the month. Restrictions had been put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Wang is to meet with Prime Minister Suga Wednesday, the first meeting with a Japanese leader by a top Chinese official since the February visit of Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi.