March 8, 2016 / 2:17 PM / 2 years ago

China says little to cheer in improved ties with 'two-faced' Japan

BEIJING (Reuters) - China sees little reason for optimism that relations with Japan will improve, China’s Foreign Minister said on Tuesday, accusing “two-faced” Tokyo of constantly seeking to make trouble.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi gestures as he arrives for a news conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, in Beijing, China, in this March 8, 2016 file picture. REUTERS/China Daily/Files

China, the world’s second-largest economy, and Japan, the third largest, have a difficult political history, with relations strained by the legacy of Japan’s World War Two aggression and conflicting claims over a group of uninhabited East China Sea islets.

While ties have been thawing, with meetings between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing remains deeply suspicious of Japan, especially of Abe’s moves to allow the military to fight overseas for the first time since the war.

Speaking at his yearly news conference on the sidelines of China’s annual parliament meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he hoped bilateral ties could improve as the two have a “tradition of friendship”.

“Thanks to the efforts of wise people on both sides, there are signs of improvement in the China-Japan relations, but there is little ground for optimism,” he said.

“Of course we want to see the China-Japan relations truly improve, but as a saying goes, to cure diseases, you have to address underlying problems,” Wang added.

On one hand, Japanese leaders say nice things about wanting to improve relations, but on the other they “create troubles for China at every turn”, he said.

“This is what I would call a typical case of being two faced.”

Japan has also been keeping an eye on China’s activities in the South China Sea, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga saying in February that Japan was gathering and analyzing information on China’s moves there with “serious interest”.

China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Beijing is feeling public pressure at home to show it can protect its claims to the waters after the United States began conducting “freedom of navigation” operations near islands where China has been carrying out controversial reclamation work and stationing advanced weapons.

“All ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) states hope for freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” Suga told reporters, when asked about Wang’s comments. “Isn’t it a rule in the international community that any country can say what it has to say on an unilateral attempt at dominance with force?”

Suga reiterated, however, that nothing has been changed to Japan’s stance that the door to dialogue with China remained open.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Nick Macfie

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