Japan pledged to pursue strategic and mutually beneficial relations with China in its annual foreign policy report released Tuesday, even as the two countries remain at odds over various issues, while recognizing the importance of dialogue.

The 2024 Diplomatic Bluebook said Japan will promote a "mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests" with China, using the wording last seen in the 2019 report, although the neighboring country poses "an unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge."

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to build the strategic and mutually beneficial relations at their meeting in San Francisco in November last year.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in San Francisco on Nov. 16, 2023. (Kyodo) 

Tensions remain between the two Asian powers over matters such as the Tokyo-controlled, Beijing-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and the release of treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean since last August.

Rivalry between Japan's close ally the United States and China has also intensified over the Chinese military's provocative activities near Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

The report also mentioned "serious concerns" over China's "attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo" and "a series of dangerous acts" in the South China Sea as well as the importance of accelerating trilateral collaboration among Japan, the United States and the Philippines to deal with them.

Beijing expressed its "firm opposition" to the Japanese document, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian saying it contains "cliches of smearing and accusing China, exaggerating the so-called China threat and unreasonably interfering in internal affairs" of the country.

China urges Japan to "correct its wrongdoing, stop stoking bloc confrontation" and work toward the goal of building a constructive and stable Sino-Japanese relationship that meets the requirements of the new era, Lin said at a press conference.

As for South Korea, the bluebook described it as an "important neighboring country" that Japan should cooperate with "as a partner to address various issues of the international community."

"Given the grave security environment in the Indo-Pacific region, Japan and South Korea's close cooperation is needed now more than ever," it said.

Tokyo last called Seoul a partner in the 2010 version, a Foreign Ministry official told reporters, reflecting a significant improvement in bilateral ties since South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol took office in 2022.

The two Asian countries have also been strengthening three-way security cooperation with the United States in response to North Korea's advancing nuclear and missile programs, which the policy paper said pose "serious and imminent threats" to Japan's security.

Japan and South Korea, however, have been at odds over a pair of Seoul-controlled, Tokyo-claimed islets in the Sea of Japan.

In the bluebook, the remote islets, called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean, were referred to as an "inherent territory" of Japan.

The South Korean government lodged a protest against what it says is Japan's "repeated unfair territorial claims" and urged Tokyo to withdraw it immediately.

In response, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said at a press conference, "We objected (to the protest) as unacceptable based on our consistent stance."

On North Korea, the document said Tokyo "cannot afford to waste" any time in solving the long-standing problem of Pyongyang's past abductions of Japanese nationals as the victims' families continue to age, mentioning Kishida's aim to realize an early summit with its leader Kim Jong Un.

On Russia, the report underscored wariness about its move to boost relations with not only China but North Korea, particular concerning North Korean weapons transfers that could worsen the situation in Ukraine as it resists Russian invasion.

To enhance deterrence, it is essential to collaborate with like-minded nations and construct "multilayered networks" that center around the Japan-U.S. alliance, such as those involving Australia, India and NATO members, it added.

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