The Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, has rejected a meeting with China’s former Ambassador to Japan, Kong Xuanyou, before his departure in late February. According to sources cited by Kyodo News, this unusual move highlights the strained relations between the two countries.
Previous ambassadors have met with Japanese premiers for farewell meetings. Still, Kishida broke this tradition due to deteriorating public opinion regarding Chinese vessels’ repeated entry into waters close to the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands and earlier flights of suspected Chinese spy balloons over Japan.
In January, Kong requested an in-person farewell from the Japanese government, followed by former Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao in March. However, Tokyo declined, citing “schedule conflicts” for Kishida. Instead, Kong met with Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, although the government kept this meeting private. Despite prime ministers outranking ambassadors, a government source said that the denial of Kong’s request did not create any problems regarding diplomatic protocol.
Japan believed it necessary to take a “reciprocal approach” because there was no meeting between former Japanese Ambassador to China Yutaka Yokoi and Chinese President Xi Jinping before the envoy’s departure in 2020, according to sources cited by Kyodo News.
While Tokyo and Beijing are trying to normalise relations as they celebrate the 45th anniversary of the 1978 bilateral Peace and Friendship Treaty, tensions cannot be ignored. Japan’s key security ally, the United States, is experiencing growing tensions with China. Beijing continues to exert military pressure on Taiwan while maintaining strong links with Russia throughout Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Only one of the five Chinese ambassadors to Japan who have served since 2001 has been unable to meet the prime minister before departing for China. In September 2007, Wang Yi, now China’s top diplomat, left without ever meeting then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who declared his resignation due to his failing health. Kong’s predecessor, Cheng Yonghua, had a lunch hosted by Abe in April 2019 at his official residence, and the two met in the prime minister’s office when Kong arrived in Japan in June of the same year.
Abe returned to power in 2012 and became Japan’s longest-serving leader before he was assassinated last year while giving an election campaign address. According to Kyodo News, China claims the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are under Japanese control, as Diaoyu frequently deploys ships into the area.