Japan Wants Transparent Labor Rules In China

BEIJING (AP) -- Japan called for "transparent policies" governing workers in China, saying labor disputes that halted operations at dozens of factories this year were troubling to Japanese companies.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada brought up the issue at a high-level economic meeting between China and Japan -- the world's second and third largest economies -- held in Beijing to discuss ways to recover from the economic crisis and foster regional cooperation. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met with the Japanese delegation on Sunday.

"At the request of Japanese enterprises in China, we discussed ensuring transparent policies" during talks on how to improve the business environment in China, Okada said Saturday. "As to the recent frequent labor dispute issue, the Japanese side expressed willingness to further strengthen discussion."

The widespread strikes were rare for China but the government permitted them, apparently trying to put more money in workers' pockets as part of efforts to boost consumer spending.

The Chinese delegation at the meeting said the strikes were to be expected because wages had been frozen for two years to help companies ride out the economic crisis, Japan Foreign Ministry spokesman Satoru Sato told reporters at a briefing late Saturday.

The Japanese were "not so satisfied with this explanation, we still think this is very important to Japanese companies operating here," he said.

They also urged China to ease export controls on rare metals used in computers, hybrid electric cars and other high-tech products.

"These limitations are affecting the global production chain," Sato said.

But China's restrictions on exports of rare earths are necessary for environmental protection, Commerce Minister Chen Deming said, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Vice Premier Wang Qishan, who led the Chinese delegation, said the economies of the two counties are interdependent and China has "huge market potential."

"The economies of both countries highly rely on each other. Economic and trade cooperation have been improved in a firm manner. Bilateral trade has recovered rapidly and has exceeded levels from before the financial crisis," Wang said

The meeting came after government statistics released earlier this month showed that China had surpassed Japan as the world's second-biggest economy after three decades of blistering growth that puts overtaking the U.S. in reach within 10 years.

Japan is still far richer per person, but the news is more proof of the arrival of China, with 10 times Japan's population, as a force that is altering the global balance of commercial, political and military power.

This was the third high-level economic dialogue between the two sides, following talks in June last year in Tokyo and a first round in December 2007 in Beijing.

Discussion topics on Saturday also included cooperation in high-end manufacturing, energy conservation, environmental protection, food safety and opposition to protectionism, Wang said.

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