Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi announced on Friday his plan to visit Beijing this weekend for talks with his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang, where he will push for the early release of a Japanese businessman recently detained in the country for alleged espionage.
Hayashi said at a press conference that he will also make a four-day trip to Brussels from Monday to attend a foreign ministerial meeting of NATO countries and their partners, at which they are likely to reaffirm their unified stance over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Referring to his planned two-day visit to the Chinese capital from Saturday, Hayashi said he will "explain our nation's position" on current issues between Tokyo and Beijing, including the detention case.
Hayashi will be the first Japanese foreign minister to visit China since December 2019, as well as the first to hold an in-person meeting with his Chinese counterpart since November 2020, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
The meeting comes amid Japan pressing for the release of a senior employee of Japanese pharmaceutical firm Astellas Pharma Inc., detained in Beijing in March on suspicion of engaging in espionage, putting further strain on bilateral ties.
"I will have a candid and in-depth exchange of views (with Qin) to build constructive and stable Japan-China relations," Hayashi said.
Hayashi noted that his China visit is part of preparations for the Group of Seven summit to be hosted by Japan in Hiroshima in May. G-7 members plan to discuss a slew of issues concerning the Indo-Pacific region, including those involving China.
Beijing also announced Hayashi's trip to China, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning saying at a press conference Friday that the country "attaches importance" to his visit, adding that it will "enhance dialogue and communication" with Tokyo.
Mao echoed Hayashi's view, saying Beijing will seek to promote the building of a "stable and constructive China-Japan relationship set for the new era."
She also said China and Japan are each other's neighbors, and that a healthy and stable relationship between them serves the common interests of both countries and the region.
Beijing is eager to work with Tokyo to make this year's 45th anniversary of the signing of the 1978 bilateral Peace and Friendship Treaty an opportunity to "deepen practical cooperation and manage and control differences," Mao added.
Japan and China have long been at loggerheads over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which Beijing claims and calls Diaoyu, with Chinese coast guard vessels repeatedly entering territorial waters around the uninhabited islets.
In November last year, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at a summit in Bangkok to arrange Hayashi's visit to China. Qin reiterated his invitation during phone talks between the two foreign ministers last month.
Qin, a former Chinese ambassador to the United States, succeeded Wang Yi in late December last year, and was promoted to state councilor this month.
Later on Friday, the Japanese and Chinese governments said that a hotline between their defense authorities has been set up, 16 years after first agreeing on the launch of the measure designed to build confidence and prevent unexpected contingencies.
The establishment of the direct communications link follows a security dialogue between the two governments in Tokyo in late February, when their senior officials agreed they would work together to launch the hotline "around spring of this year."
Although the hotline is not yet in operation, it is expected to be a pillar of the Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism that Tokyo and Beijing began in 2018 to avoid accidental clashes at sea and in the air.
In the Belgian capital, foreign ministers from countries such as South Korea, Australia and Ukraine will also attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting, according to Hayashi.
It will be the second straight year that Hayashi attends a NATO foreign ministerial meeting.