Japan and China are considering postponing Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit this spring, Japanese government sources said Sunday, as the two countries have recognized the need to focus on containing the spread of the new coronavirus.
Xi was slated to make the trip to Tokyo in early April, in what would be the first state visit by a Chinese president since Hu Jintao in May 2008.
A new schedule has yet to be determined. Japanese officials have suggested that the visit could be delayed until fall or later, after the country hosts the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
"Xi's visit in April has become difficult," said a senior official in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration.
(World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Beijing on Jan. 28, 2020, ahead of their meeting to discuss how to curb the spread of the new coronavirus)
The Japanese government has already told China that it is not the right time to go ahead with Xi's visit, according to the sources.
The likelihood is high that Japan and China will make the final decision this week about whether to put off Xi's visit.
A state visit would include a meeting with Emperor Naruhito and a banquet at the Imperial Palace. Normally, when to meet with the Japanese emperor must be finalized a month in advance.
On Saturday, Abe told a press conference there was no change to the schedule for Xi's visit, adding, "It will be the first visit by a Chinese president in a decade so we need to be able to show solid outcomes. From that perspective, Japan and China will closely communicate with each other."
But stronger opposition to the visit has been emerging within the government and Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, especially among conservative lawmakers who have argued that major issues ranging from China's maritime assertiveness to the human rights situation in Hong Kong are outstanding.
When China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi came to Tokyo in late February, Japan told him that preparations for the visit were behind schedule due to the virus outbreak, according to the sources.
A number of preparatory meetings between Japanese and Chinese officials have been called off as the pneumonia-causing virus spreads globally from its epicenter in Wuhan, central China.
The officials have not worked out the details yet of a political document on the future of the countries' relations to be issued by Abe and Xi, and so Japan told Yang that it was becoming difficult to secure concrete results from a meeting between the leaders, the sources said.
Yang told Japanese officials that he would convey their views to Beijing, according to the sources.