Japanese and Chinese officials are continuing negotiations for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Beijing in October.
In particular, the two sides are working toward having Abe visit on Oct. 23, which would mark the 40th anniversary of the Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty, according to a number of sources knowledgeable about Japan-China ties.
A major premise for Abe’s visit to China is that he first win a third term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in September and continues as prime minister.
China is planning a number of major events on Oct. 23 to commemorate the treaty, and there is the possibility of having the leaders of the two nations together at some of the events to further show improvement in bilateral relations.
According to the sources, Japanese officials have requested a meeting between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the visit to China. While Chinese officials have indicated a willingness to hold such a meeting, a decision is not expected until after the LDP presidential election.
Japanese officials are also considering having Abe visit regional cities during his trip.
One candidate site is Shenzhen in Guangdong province because many Japanese companies have expressed strong interest in the information technology industry concentrated in that city.
Another possible site would be Xian in Shaanxi province because of its deep ties with the “One Belt One Road Initiative” being pushed by Xi to link China through a new economic Silk Road with Asia, the Middle East and eventually Europe.
If Abe is re-elected as LDP president, he would want to use an improved relationship with China to score political points ahead of unified local elections and the Upper House election scheduled for next year.
Abe administration officials are focusing on economic cooperation with China as a major selling point of Abe’s visit.
According to government sources, one possibility is to have Japan and China cooperate within the One Belt One Road Initiative framework for infrastructure construction in a third nation. One idea being considered is to cooperate in the construction of a railway project in Thailand.
At the same time, there are still contentious issues remaining between Japan and China, such as the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea as well as Beijing’s development of gas fields in that sea.
Another government source explained the complicated nature of the relationship with China and said, “While we would not want any improvement in bilateral ties to only benefit China, we also do not want to damage an atmosphere of friendship by bringing up such contentious topics.”
While Beijing is also not expected to quickly compromise on such issues, it also now faces an increasingly intense trade friction with the United States that holds the risk of slowing the domestic economy.
By working to improve ties with Japan, China could encourage more Japanese companies to invest to stabilize the domestic economy and diplomacy between the two nations.