China's top diplomat will seek to shore up ties with two U.S. allies next week, as the countdown to the end of President Donald Trump's administration prompts a recalibration of Beijing's relations with close neighbors.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Japan from Nov. 24-25, where he was set to meet Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as well as his counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi. Wang will subsequently travel to Seoul from Nov. 25-27 for talks that will include a meeting with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
President-elect Joe Biden called the leaders of Japan and South Korea last week to reassure them on U.S. alliance commitments.
The Wang visit comes as China has expressed anger over regional cooperation seen as pushing back against Beijing's expansionism in the region. This includes the so-called Quad meeting of foreign ministers from Japan, the U.S., India and Australia that Suga's government hosted in Tokyo last month, a few weeks after he became premier.
Beijing was further irritated when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Tokyo this week and signed a defense cooperation deal with Suga. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded by saying that Beijing was "strongly dissatisfied."
In announcing the visit Friday, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Beijing was willing to work with Japan on forming a consensus to fight covid-19 and looked to advance ties.
A diplomatic novice, Suga must maintain a delicate balance in relations with China as well as with Tokyo's only formal military ally, the U.S. Since taking office in September, he has already played host to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Morrison -- both representing governments that are sparring with China over the coronavirus, trade and data security.
Suga's predecessor, Shinzo Abe, had worked to restore relations with China, which were at their worst in decades when he took over in 2012. That effort was supposed to culminate with a state visit to Japan by President Xi Jinping in April, but the plan was postponed as the coronavirus pandemic worsened.
Wang's visit takes place amid a new wave of the virus, and Japan's Foreign Ministry said care would be taken to ensure that he doesn't come into contact with the public during his visit.
Some in Suga's ruling Liberal Democratic Party have called for Xi's visit to be formally canceled, given China's security clampdown on Hong Kong and growing tensions around East China Sea islands disputed between the two countries. The government has said only that it is not in a position to organize a state visit during the pandemic.