By Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told his Chinese counterpart on Monday that it is important a free and open Hong Kong keeps on prospering under the “one country, two systems” model, a Japanese government official said.
In a Tokyo meeting with China’s state councillor and foreign minister, Wang Yi, Motegi said he is highly concerned about the Hong Kong situation and that he hopes for an early and peaceful resolution of the unrest, the official told a media briefing.
Hong Kong’s democrats scored a landslide majority in Sunday’s district council elections, which saw a record turnout after six months of anti-government protests, increasing pressure on the Chinese-ruled city’s leader to listen to calls for democracy.
In response to Motegi’s comment, Wang reiterated China’s official stance that what is happening in Hong Kong is a domestic matter for China, the official said.
In a joint news conference that followed their meeting, Motegi said Japan and China signed a bilateral animal health and quarantine agreement, a key step towards the resumption of Japanese beef export to China.
China has banned beef imports from Japan since an outbreak of mad-cow disease in 2001.
Motegi expressed his gratitude.
“I hope this will accelerate the process of actually resuming imports of Japanese beef, and that people in China will enjoy our delicious farm products, which are pride of Japan, to their heart’s content,” he said.
Progress towards the resumption of beef export is a welcome development for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government as it looks to export agricultural products as a new growth driver.
The signing comes as both Tokyo and Beijing strive to create and maintain a positive atmosphere ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Japan visit next year.
“Both sides are convinced that President Xi Jinping’s visit as a state guest next spring will be a milestone,” Wang told the news conference.
“We have agreed that both sides will continue to work hard and produce a positive condition and atmosphere for this important visit.”
Japan’s ties with China, long plagued with a territorial row over a group of East China Sea isles and the legacy of Japan’s wartime aggression, sharply deteriorated when Japan nationalised three of the tiny islands in 2012.
But Tokyo and Beijing have sought to improve relations more recently, with Abe visiting Beijing in October last year when both countries pledged to forge closer ties and signed a broad range of agreements including a currency swap pact.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Toby Chopra and Ed Osmond)