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Japan, China agree to work toward resuming travel

A chartered Japan Airlines Co. plane carrying about 160 passengers, mainly Japanese businesspeople and their families who had evacuated from China following the novel coronavirus outbreak, takes off from Narita International Airport near Tokyo to Guangzhou, China, on July 10, 2020. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi agreed Wednesday to work promptly toward resuming mutual travel, which has stalled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

    In their first phone call since late April, the ministers agreed to cooperate in resuming mutual travel "as soon as possible," according to the ministry.

    China is among a group of countries for which Japan is considering easing its travel ban as the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks to balance economic recovery with containing the coronavirus.

    The travel ban is currently in place for 146 countries and regions, with foreign travelers who have been to any of them within 14 days of arriving in Japan being refused entry.

    Wang, who is also a state councilor, stressed the need for cooperation in fighting the coronavirus and putting the economy on a recovery track, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

    During the 80-minute call, held at the request of Beijing, Motegi urged Wang to stop repeated intrusions by Chinese official vessels into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, a group of East China Sea islets administered by Japan but claimed by China.

    On Wednesday, China Coast Guard ships were spotted near the Senkakus for the 107th straight day in a perceived attempt to assert its claim over the islets.

    On 11 of the 107 days, Chinese vessels intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the islands, prompting Tokyo to beef up patrols and lodge protests with Beijing.

    The Japanese Foreign Ministry said Motegi also voiced concern over the situation in Hong Kong, where China has imposed a new national security law empowering it to crack down on what it views as subversive activity.

    Critics say the law impinges on human rights and freedoms that were promised to the former British colony for 50 years after its return to Chinese control in 1997.

    Both the maritime intrusions and the Hong Kong issue have become sources of tension between Tokyo and Beijing, with conservative lawmakers in Japan urging Abe's administration to rescind an invitation for Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit as a state guest.

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