Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida left for the United States Wednesday to attend a summit meeting in San Francisco of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and hold one-on-one talks with Chinese, South Korean and other leaders.
During his trip, Kishida is also slated to participate in a summit with nations involved in a U.S.-led initiative known as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a key part of Washington's reengagement with the region amid China's growing influence.
"I'll use this opportunity to voice Japan's position on pressing issues such as the promotion of free and open trade and the digital economy, as well as (addressing) climate change," Kishida told reporters before his departure.
The United States is hosting the APEC gathering at a time when Russia's war on Ukraine, which began in February 2022, has created challenges for the 21-member group that includes both Moscow and Beijing in terms of reaching a consensus on various issues.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin will be absent, Chinese President Xi Jinping is taking part in the summit, with his planned talks with U.S. President Joe Biden already stealing the spotlight.
Japan has its own bilateral contentions with China, a major trading partner but an assertive neighbor, as the two countries have been mired in disagreements related to territory and wartime history.
Most recently, China's blanket import ban on Japanese seafood in response to the ocean release of treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that started in August has become a source of diplomatic friction.
Still, Kishida is exploring holding talks, likely on Thursday, with Xi on the fringes of the APEC meeting, having sent a national security advisor to Beijing to lay the groundwork for what would be their first face-to-face talks in a year.
Supply chain disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic and Sino-U.S. security and economic tensions have raised calls for a review of the economic model underpinning dependency on China.
Kishida is joining other APEC leaders to discuss a range of topics, such as how to make their economies more resilient and ensure sustainable growth, as Japan continues to push for a free and open Indo-Pacific in a bid to boost free trade for economic expansion.
On Friday, Kishida is planning to meet with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. In a rare joint appearance, the two are scheduled to speak at Stanford University.
Bilateral ties between Japan and South Korea, both close U.S. allies, have been improving since earlier this year after a long-standing wartime labor compensation dispute sent relations to their lowest point in years under Yoon's predecessor, Moon Jae In.