|Japan has repeatedly expressed concern over China’s widening naval reach in the Pacific [AFP]|
Yoshihiko Noda, the Japanese prime minister, has reached Beijing for a bilateral meeting, but regional security – after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il – is expected to be high on agenda.
“I would also like to make sure that Japan and China will work closely so that the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula will not be negatively impacted,” the Japanese prime minister said on Sunday.
Noda will hold talks with China’s President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during the visit, his first since coming to power in September.
Ties between the two regional powers have been dogged by economic and territorial disputes, but Kim’s death has shifted the agenda to global worries about nuclear-armed North Korea, where Kim’s young son Kim Jong-Un appears to be taking the reins of the state.
Noda is the first foreign leader to meet China’s leaders since Kim’s death, and he will emphasise the need to get stalled six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme back on track.
The six-party talks, chaired by China and also involving the two Koreas, the US, Russia and Japan, have been at a standstill since December 2008.
Pyongyang walked out of the talks in 2009, and conducted a second nuclear-test, but now wants to re-engage in return for food aid from Washington.
Last year, Pyongyang also was blamed for two military attacks on South Korea that heightened tensions on the peninsula.
Japan, having no ties with the North, needs China’s support to engage Pyongyang. China backs the regime and supplies it with food aid and much of its energy resources.
Yang Jiechi, the Chinese foreign minister, this week held telephone talks with his counterparts in the US, South Korea, Russia and Japan after Kim’s death.
The two neighbours are also expected to discuss issues including territorial and energy field disputes in the East China Sea, particularly the development of gas fields near the disputed islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.
“I would like to hold discussions so as to deepen the strategically mutually beneficial relations between Japan and China,” Noda told reporters in Tokyo.
Japan has repeatedly expressed concern over China’s widening naval reach in the Pacific and over what it calls the “opaqueness” of Beijing’s military budget.
Meanwhile, North Korea has lashed out at the South for a perceived lack of respect towards Kim Jong-il, as it reported more scenes of mass grieving in the isolated communist state for the late leader.
Saying the whole world is in mourning for “a peerlessly great man”, the North for the second time in three days blasted the South over its response to Kim’s sudden death on December 17.
There would be “unpredictable catastrophic consequences” for cross-border relations unless Seoul eases restrictions on condolence visits by South Koreans to Pyongyang, it said.
The South blames its neighbour for two deadly border incidents last year, but has taken a generally conciliatory stance since Monday’s shock announcement of Kim’s death.
The Seoul government sent its sympathies to the North’s people, scrapped a controversial plan to display Christmas lights near the border and announced that South Koreans could send pre-approved condolence messages northwards.
On Saturday the North’s ruling party hailed Jong-Un as “supreme commander”, the latest sign that the untested youth in his late 20s is tightening his grip on power.
But the Kim dynasty’s newest ruler remains a figure of mystery to the world, which is seeking clues to future policy in the nuclear-armed nation.
Fresh TV footage aired on Sunday showed Jong-Un and other top military and party officials paying respects at the glass coffin of his late father.
They included Jang Song-Thaek, Jong-Un’s uncle and a likely key figure in the succession process, wearing a military uniform with the insignia of a general.