Chinese finance minister skips trilateral meeting with Japan, Korea

  • As China opposes US sanctions on North Korea

Chinese Finance Minister Xiao Jie skipped a trilateral meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Yokohama on Friday due to important domestic matters, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said.

While the specific reasons for Xiao’s absence were not clear, his non-attendance casts doubt over the outlook for regional cooperation among the north-east Asian powers at an event which is supposed to build deeper economic ties.

Finance leaders at the trilateral meeting agreed to resist all forms of protectionism, taking a stronger stand than G20 major economies against the protectionist policies advocated by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Aso did not elaborate on the Chinese minister’s reasons for not attending, although he said that Xiao did not attend due to “important policy issues” at home.

However, he said Xiao should be able to join a bilateral Japan-China finance dialogue scheduled for Saturday, in which the two sides were expected to discuss their economic cooperation.

The trilateral meeting was held on the sideline of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) annual gathering in Yokohama, eastern Japan.

The threat of China’s increasing presence in infrastructure finance to Japan’s economic influence in the area was expected to be a topic of debate at the meeting.

An official at China’s finance ministry’s international department said “we cannot comment” when asked about Xiao’s absence from the meeting.

The Chinese delegation was represented by its deputy finance minister and a senior official from the Chinese central bank at the trilateral summit.

Finance officials from the three countries met and issued a resolve to resist protectionism, according to a Japanese Ministry of Finance official.

In an attempt to reduce the region’s vulnerability to dollar swings, Japan also proposed forming 40 billion dollars in bilateral currency swap arrangements with Southeast Asian nations that will allow it to provide yen funds in times of financial stress.

The finance leaders and central bank governors of the three nations said in a communiqué issued after their meeting that they agreed that trade was one of the most important engines of economic growth and development.

“It will contribute to productivity improvements and job creations.

“We will resist all forms of protectionism,” the communiqué said, keeping a line that was removed under pressure from Washington from a G20 communique in March when the group’s finance leaders met in Germany.

China has positioned itself as a supporter of free trade in the wake of Trump’s calls to put America’s interest first and pull out of multilateral trade agreements.

Japan has taken a more accommodative stance toward Washington’s argument that trade must not just be free but fair.

ADB President Takehiko Nakao, a former top Japanese currency diplomat, has sought to dispel the view Japan and China are competing for influence.

He had said on Thursday that his institution sought to cooperate not compete in the region.

The talks came amid escalating tensions in North Korea, which moderated some of the optimism policymakers held over Asian’s economic outlook.

While the trilateral meeting’s communiqué said Asian economies were expected to maintain “relatively robust growth”, it warned remaining downside risks meant policymakers would require all necessary tools to achieve strong growth.

In the meantime, China on Friday opposed unilateral sanctions on North Korea by Washington, a day after the US House of Representatives approved a law granting more power to the executive to take such a step.

“China firmly opposes any country`s imposition of unilateral sanctions on any other country according to their own domestic law,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said.

Geng described the situation on the Korean peninsula as “very complex and tense” and called for restraint to prevent a major conflict from breaking out, Efe news reported.

On Thursday, the lower house of the US Congress approved a law conferring more power on President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on North Korea and the companies of any country that sell materials to Pyongyang which allow it to develop its nuclear and missile programmes.

The bill, which will go to the Senate for final approval, prohibits North Korean ships or those from any other country, including China, that refuse to comply with the resolutions of the UN Security Council condemning the ballistic missile launches from operating in US waters or docking at US ports.

Geng added that Beijing fully complies with these resolutions despite doubts surrounding China`s actions with regards to North Korea.

Although China has publicly distanced itself from Pyongyang and insists it has halted coal imports, some experts believe the two countries are still trading through the “livelihood purposes” clause that allows trade to ensure the survival of the North Korean people.

Additional report from Zee