BEIJING, China — China’s foreign minister cautioned Japan against teaming up with the U.S. to counter Beijing, as Japan speaks up more on human rights in China's Xinjiang region ahead of a U.S.-Japan summit next week.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Japanese counterpart in a phone call Monday evening that their two countries should ensure that their relations “do not get involved in the so-called confrontation between major countries,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said.
It quoted Wang as saying that “China hopes that Japan, as an independent country, will look at China’s development in an objective and rational way, instead of being misled by some countries holding biased view against China.”
Japan, a close U.S. ally that hosts major American naval and air force bases, shares U.S. concerns about China's military buildup and claims to territory in the South and East China Seas. However, its major trade and investment interests in China have at times reined in its criticism of its larger neighbor.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is to travel to Washington to meet President Joe Biden on April 16 in what will be the U.S. leader’s first in-person summit since taking office in January.
Biden, in contrast to his predecessor Donald Trump, has stressed rebuilding ties with European and Asian allies as the U.S. prepares for competition with a rising China.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi raised human rights in China's Xinjiang region and Hong Kong, both important issues for Biden. He also reiterated Japan's protest against China's presence in waters around a group of uninhabited, Japan-controlled islands that China claims in the East China Sea.
Motegi told reporters Tuesday that he expressed “grave concern and strongly requested China to take concrete actions" for improvement on those issues, including the human rights situation in the Xinjiang region.
Some members of a foreign policy team within Suga's conservative ruling party have called for his government to take a tougher stance against China over the Xinjiang situation. They say Japan should adopt a law to impose sanctions against a foreign country over human rights violations.
The United States, Canada, Britain and the European Union have adopted such a law, and they say Japan is the only Group of Seven country without it.
Japan has taken a softer approach by maintaining dialogue rather than imposing unilateral sanctions. But Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato on Tuesday said Japan is open to the possibility of having such a law.
"It is necessary to analyze and consider whether Japan should adopt a system that would unilaterally determine human rights violations and impose sanctions, taking into consideration various views including our ongoing human rights and foreign policies and trends in the international community,(asterisk) he said.
Kato said it is important for each country to do what it can to improve human rights conditions. “Japan will continue to cooperate with the United States and other related countries,” he said.
Wang opposed Japanese interference in China’s internal affairs in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the Chinese statement said.
Taiwan is another potential flashpoint, with Suga saying earlier this week that Japan would cooperate with the U.S. on the issue. China regards the self-governing island as a renegade province that should be under Chinese rule.
China, in a signal to the U.S. and its allies, recently sent an aircraft carrier group to waters near Taiwan for training exercises.