Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President XiJinping agreed Saturday to make a fresh beginning in efforts toward improved bilateral ties after both sides further strengthened their domestic power base.
Xi said he wants to advance “positive developments” seen in recent months in his discussions with Abe on the sidelines of a regional economic summit in the Vietnamese coastal city of Danang.
In concluding their meeting, Xi said it marked a “new start” for relations between the two countries, according to Abe, who later told reporters, “I completely feel the same way.”
Abe said he wants to “strongly promote” the ongoing efforts and also told Xi that Japan wants to deepen cooperation with China in dealing with North Korea’s flurry of provocative weapons tests.
The meeting comes mere weeks after the two leaders further consolidated their respective grips on power through key political events at home.
Abe congratulated Xi on being re-elected to lead China’s Communist Party following its twice-a-decade congress late last month and suggested that the strengthened standing that they now enjoy could allow them to have more favorable conditions for Asia’s two biggest economies to quicken the tempo of reconciliation.
However, Xi also said more needs to be done in the process of improving ties between the two countries. China’s official media reported Xi as telling Abe that Japan needs to properly handle thorny issues such as those related to history and Taiwan, and “the key is mutual trust.”
Abe, meanwhile, said “genuine” improvement of ties cannot be achieved without stability in the East China Sea and that maritime order in any part of the world must be governed by law, according to a senior Japanese government official.
Still, according to Abe, the meeting, their sixth since they took power in 2012, was held in a “very friendly atmosphere.”
The official said they agreed to increase political, business and people-to-people exchanges, and also speed up negotiations for the establishment of a maritime and aerial communication mechanism designed to prevent unintended clashes in the East China Sea, where a set of small islands at the center of a territorial dispute between them is situated.
Meeting Xi after attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Abe also voiced hope for a bigger role by China in compelling North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
China has resisted applying greater pressure on North Korea, fearing the risk of its northeastern areas being thrown into chaos if Pyongyang comes closer to the brink of collapse.
At the same time, China has grown frustrated by North Korea’s defiant quest for nuclear weapons, which has prompted U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to escalate America’s military engagement in the region.
Abe and Xi have never had lengthy discussions in the format of an official visit by either side. All meetings, including the latest one, lasted no more than about 40 minutes and took place on the sidelines of multilateral gatherings.
Abe and Xi last held bilateral talks in July, when they traveled to the German city of Hamburg for the Group of 20 summit.
The lack of in-depth communications between Abe and Xi is a sign of the continued fragility of Sino-Japanese relations.
But compared with four or five years ago when they were at their lowest ebb since the 1972 normalization of diplomatic ties, due to territorial and wartime issues, political and business exchanges between the two countries have picked up pace.
Following the Communist Party’s politically sensitive congress now that Xi has amassed even greater power, Japanese officials believe Beijing will have greater leeway in increasing high-level contacts with Tokyo.
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the two countries’ treaty of friendship and peace, and Abe in late September expressed eagerness to visit China again and invited Xi to come to Japan in the near future.
Abe has also said he is looking forward to meeting with Premier Li Keqiang by the end of this year in Japan at a trilateral summit involving South Korea as well.
Since Xi became head of the ruling party in November 2012, neither he nor Li has yet visited Japan.
Just a few days before Xi began his second five-year term with a team stacked with his trusted allies and followers, Abe also bolstered his power base, with his ruling coalition winning a two-thirds majority in the Oct. 22 election for the more powerful lower house of parliament.
The victory puts Abe on track to be post-war Japan’s longest serving prime minister.
Differing views between the two countries over territorial disputes in the East and South China seas persist and there is little indication that the two countries will change their positions.
During the party congress, Xi clarified that China will advance its goal of building a strong military and take an assertive policy, perceived by many other countries as high-handed, toward its neighbors on territorial claims.
But despite the disagreements, or by putting them aside, an increasing number of policymakers and scholars from Japan and China think that the renewed political stability in each country would create a better environment to promote practical cooperation in the months to come.