China and Japan displayed a united front on “free and fair” trade as leaders of Asia’s two biggest economies met on Friday in Beijing.
The visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, along with hundreds of Japanese businessmen, took place against the backdrop of the festering trade dispute between China and the US that has resulted in both sides imposing billions of dollars in tariffs on each other’s exports.
“I believe we need to take to a new level a free and fair trade system,” Abe said after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two sides signed a slew of agreements, including a currency swap deal and plans to work together in other markets.
The demonstration of unity was underlined by the nearly 1,000 business representatives who traveled to Beijing from Japan. China’s Premier Li Keqiang said they had signed 500 agreements worth $18 billion.
“This indicates our cooperation has great potential and a promising prospect,” he said. “As countries with great influence in the region and the world, we should safeguard free trade.” Li said the two sides should work on regional free trade deals such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which does not include the US, and on a free trade area between China, South Korea and Japan.
“The realization of regional economic integration in the Asia Pacific region benefits the development of global free trade,” Li said. President Donald Trump’s effort to win more favorable trade deals for the US has focused most heavily on China, source of the biggest American trade deficit and the target of complaints over Beijing’s policies for building leadership in advanced technologies.
Japan, too, faces pressure over its own trade imbalance with the US, especially on auto exports. Abe’s government has agreed on holding talks with the US, its powerful ally, on a bilateral trade deal but also needs good relations with China, its biggest trading partner and the regional powerhouse.