Beijing’s ambassador to Japan appears less Wolf Warrior but holds line that China will defend itself

Kristin Huang
·4-min read

China opposes a so-called new cold war and will resolutely defend its sovereignty, security and development interests, according to the Chinese ambassador to Japan, Kong Xuanyou.

The remarks were made by Kong in a wide-ranging interview to Japan’s Asahi newspaper on Friday, during which he touched on a number of controversial such as the China-US relationship, China’s policies on Xinjiang and Beijing’s moves regarding the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan calls the Senkaku Islands.

The Chinese version of the transcript was released by the Chinese embassy to its website on Sunday.

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This is the second major interview given by Kong since he became ambassador in May last year. In his previous interview, he called on Japanese leaders to work together with Beijing to improve relations.

The latest interview came amid rising tensions between China and the US on issues ranging from the Covid-19 pandemic to trade and technology, and Beijing and Washington were locking horns on security issues, including the South China Sea and Taiwan, fuelling speculation that the world faced a looming cold war if the two countries failed to mend ties soon.

Unlike other Chinese diplomats who have been strident about Washington’s hostility against China, Kong appeared to take a less hawkish approach to soothe Japan’s concerns.

“Even if China and the United States have problems and differences in many areas, the current situation of ‘mutual complementarity’ in economic development has not changed, and mutually beneficial cooperation and common development can still be achieved,” the embassy’s transcript quoted Kong as saying.

“China and the United States should fully recognise their important responsibilities and strive to build long-term and stable Sino-US relations.”

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In a separate question on how Sino-US relations will look after the upcoming US election, the ambassador said China wanted to develop a relationship with the US that was not confrontational and was mutually respectful and reciprocal, despite the difficulties.

Kong called for the contentious South China Sea and Taiwan issues to be resolved by peaceful means. “Maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea is the common aspiration of countries in the region, and dialogue is the right way to resolve disputes,” he said.

Regarding Taiwan, Kong urged the US to keep to its word.

“The Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, it involves China’s core interests … The United States should earnestly abide by its commitments made in the three Sino-US joint communiques and do more to help Sino-US relations and regional peace and stability,” he said.

In a subtle warning, Kong also advised Japan not to deploy US intermediate-range missiles on its soil as the move would “threaten the security of China and other regional countries and upset the regional security balance”.

Kong said crisis management was now needed when it came to the Diaoyu Islands, which have been under de facto Japanese control for decades but are also claimed by Beijing.

“The governments of the two countries should make effective efforts to prevent the Diaoyu Islands issue from hijacking public opinion and causing confrontation that will affect overall bilateral relations,” he said, adding that “tensions over the Diaoyu Islands will not do China any good”.

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Taiwan also claims the islands.

Last week, US Lieutenant General Kevin Schneider, commander of US Forces Japan, said American troops could be sent to defend the Senkakus.

Liang Yunxiang, an international relations expert at Peking University, said Kong took a mild tone in the interview, even on some sensitive matters, to better reach out to Japan.

“To construct Sino-Japanese relations in the new era, China has to adopt a soft approach to Japan. And it might well be the central tone of the next political document between the two countries.”

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