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China and Japan Agree to Try to Resolve Fukushima Water Dispute Through Dialogue

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to seek a resolution through dialogue to a dispute over wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant, Kishida said after their first summit in a year. 

“I urged that this be dealt with calmly on a scientific basis,” Kishida told reporters in San Francisco. “We will hold discussions based on science at an expert level,” he added. He described the summit as “very meaningful.”

Read More: Japan Is Releasing Wastewater Into the Pacific: What to Know About Radioactivity and Seafood

Xi told Kishida Japan’s discharge is a matter of international public interest and the country needs to handle the issue in a responsible and constructive manner, China Central Television reported.

The meeting Thursday came a day after Joe Biden hailed an improvement in U.S. relations with China following his own talks with Xi. That warmer tone helped open the way for U.S. ally Japan to pursue its efforts to shore up ties with its biggest trade partner.

The Asian neighbors have been wrangling over everything from semiconductors to nuclear waste and the fate of Japanese citizens detained in China. A territorial dispute over uninhabited islands near Taiwan continues to simmer.

Kishida said he urged Xi to end a ban on imports of Japanese seafood, imposed by China in response to Japan’s ocean discharge of wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said the release is safe.

Read More: China’s Concern About Nuclear Wastewater May Be More About Politics Than Science

The wastewater issue has hurt sales in China for Japanese companies including cosmetics-maker Shiseido Co., which slashed its profit forecast last week. The Chinese reaction has been a factor in turning the Japanese public their most negative on China since 2014, according to a poll published last month. 

Xi told Kishida at the start of the meeting that the two countries should focus on common interests, properly handle differences and re-confirm their reciprocal strategic relationship, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

Supply chains between Japan and China are deeply intertwined, he said, adding it was in no one’s interest to decouple and break those chains, China’s Xinhua reported.

“I want to work with you to create a brighter future for Japan-China ties for the sake of the next generation,” Kishida responded.  

Japan has faced Chinese recriminations for following the lead of the U.S. in strengthening the regulation of chip-related exports to China. Japan and China agreed at ministerial talks this week to establish an export control dialogue, China’s commerce ministry announced.

The leaders also agreed to restart high-level economic talks at an appropriate time, according to a statement on the Japanese Foreign Ministry website.

During the meeting, Kishida expressed concern about the situation in the East China Sea, where government ships from both nations patrol waters around a chain of uninhabited islands claimed by both countries. The Japanese premier also called on Xi to remove a buoy placed in what Japan sees as its exclusive economic zone. 

Tokyo last year dubbed its neighbor an “unprecedented security challenge” and is planning its biggest military buildup since World War II, a stance that has riled Beijing.

Read More: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Is Giving a Once Pacifist Japan a More Assertive Role on the Global Stage

Kishida also called for the release of Japanese citizens being held in China, calling for the individuals to be returned and legal processes made transparent. The detentions have cast a pall over the business environment in China, though Beijing has defended its moves as part of the protection of its national security.

One Japanese man in his 50s had a 12-year sentence confirmed this month, while an employee of drugmaker Astellas Pharma Inc, also in his 50s, was indicted in October after being detained earlier in the year. Details of the allegations haven’t been made public.

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