Strategic competition complicating matters: experts
China and Japan are in talks to find common projects for cooperation under the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative, with Japan having shown growing interest in recent months in taking part in the China-proposed massive infrastructure initiative.
However, Chinese experts warned on Monday that the Japanese government still has a somewhat wary attitude toward the B&R, and its view of China as a strategic competitor might get in the way of major cooperation between the two countries, even though bilateral ties have been warming recently.
Top officials from Asia's two largest economies resumed high-level economic talks in Tokyo on Monday, following a suspension that had lasted for eight years. The two countries are set to discuss a wide range of issues, including cooperation under the B&R initiative.
During a meeting with Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko on Sunday, Chinese Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan suggested that the two sides explore cooperation in third-country markets under the B&R framework, according to a statement from the Ministry of Commerce.
Japan initially expressed reluctance to get involved in the B&R, but has recently shown a warmer attitude. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said on multiple occasions that the Japanese government plans to cooperate with China under the B&R, according to media reports.
While the economic talks in Tokyo on Monday have not yet produced specific details about the cooperation, Chinese experts said that there are plenty of opportunities.
"There is certainly huge potential for cooperation between China and Japan because the B&R is a massive, forward-looking initiative," Jiang Yong, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday.
Japanese companies have also shown interest in the B&R. During an official visit to Beijing in November 2017, a Japanese business delegation of 250 executives proposed a slew of areas for cooperation under the B&R, including infrastructure, environmental protection and industrial upgrading, according to a report on news website thepaper.cn on February 6.
Experts have also suggested that the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Japan-led Asian Development Bank could jointly fund infrastructure projects in Asia.
Although opportunities for Sino-Japanese cooperation under the B&R are abundant, the two countries may not be able to take full advantage of them, according to Liu Jiangyong, vice dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University.
"The potential is huge but it is hard to realize that potential, not because of China but Japan," Liu told the Global Times on Monday.
He noted that China has been open about the B&R, while Japan continues to show some reluctance about joining the initiative. "We have heard some vague language from Japanese officials about joining the B&R, but we haven't seen any concrete, specific and feasible plans from the Japanese government," Liu said.
"And contrary to what they [Japanese officials] say about the B&R, they are also pursuing strategies that are targeting China, such as the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] and the Indo-Pacific Strategy," noted Liu.
Jiang also said that Japanese officials may have an ulterior motive for striking a more positive tone about the B&R. "They want to improve the relationship with China, as their biggest ally, the U.S., is getting increasingly unreliable under President Donald Trump."