Japan seeks excellent China relations and “responsible behaviour,” according to a new ministry.

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On Thursday, Japan’s new foreign minister said it was critical to maintain constructive and stable ties with China, while also appealing for China’s larger neighbour to behave responsibly.

Dedicated US ally Japan has recently become increasingly vocal in challenging China’s assertiveness on topics such as the disputed South China Sea and China’s claim to self-ruled Taiwan.

At the same time, Japan’s ruling party intends to evaluate its defence posture in the face of China’s military growth, with the goal of significantly increasing defence spending.

Yoshimasa Hayashi, in his first news conference as foreign minister, stressed the importance of constructive, stable relations with China.

“Ties between Japan and China are increasingly important not just for our two countries, but for the peace and prosperity of the region and the international community,” Hayashi said.

“We need to assert and ask for responsible behaviour while at the same time, maintain dialogue and firmly cooperate on shared challenges,” he said.

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He did not elaborate on what he meant by responsible behaviour.

Ties between Japan and China have been plagued for years by a territorial dispute over a group of tiny East China Sea islets as well as the legacy of Japan’s past military aggression.

Hayashi said time was not ripe to set a date for a visit to Japan by Chinese President Xi Jinping because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A state visit by Xi was originally scheduled for 2020 but was postponed because of the coronavirus.

Hayashi also said he would step down as head of the Japan-China Parliamentarians’ Friendship League to avoid “unnecessary misunderstanding”.

There have been doubts among conservative lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that Hayashi, as the head of the league, could take a firm stand on China, media has said.

Yuko Obuchi, a former trade minister and daughter of former prime minister Keizo Obuchi, would take over as head of the league, the Kyodo news agency reported.

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