May 15, 2017 / 11:48 PM / 2 years ago

Japan's ruling party heavyweight signals readiness to join AIIB: Nikkei

Toshihiro Nikai, Secretary General of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, prepares to put on his ear piece before a session on connectivity of development policies and strategies held as part of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, May 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s senior ruling party official has signaled Tokyo’s readiness to join the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), saying it was crucial to reach a decision soon, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Tuesday.

“The key would be how quickly Japan can decide to participate,” Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was quoted as telling reporters on Monday.

Known for his close ties to China, Nikai was in Beijing to attend a two-day summit of China’s Belt and Road initiative that concluded on Monday.

Nikai met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday, according to China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency, and Xi expressed hope that joint efforts would be made to ensure bilateral ties developed in the right direction.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an interview with CNBC on Monday that joining AIIB, created at least in part as a way to fund the Belt and Road initiative, could be an option if questions over the bank’s governance were resolved.

“For now, we are still monitoring (AIIB’s) operations carefully,” he was quoted as saying.

Japan, following Washington’s lead under former U.S. President Barack Obama, did not join the AIIB, partly from concern it was a vehicle to boost China’s regional clout and a potential rival of the Asian Development Bank, the Manila-based institution dominated by Japan and the United States.

At the summit, Xi and 29 other heads of state reaffirmed their commitment to building an open economy and ensuring free and inclusive trade under the Belt and Road initiative led by Beijing.

Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait

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