The 21st century is said to be the age of Asia.
Stability of the region, which has enormous potential for driving global growth, is a crucial key to world peace.
Japan and China, the two leading powers of Asia, bear a heavy responsibility in that respect.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited China and met with President Xi Jinping. It was the first solo China visit by a Japanese prime minister in seven years.
Abe used the phrase “from competition to cooperation” in expressing his hopes for firmer bilateral relations. Xi also confirmed that mutual ties are returning to the “right track.”
We appreciate that relations between the two powers have improved after hitting rock bottom, partly because of Tokyo’s 2012 acquisition of some of the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea from private ownership.
Twelve intergovernmental documents were signed and exchanged during Abe’s visit. Also concluded to coincide with the occasion were 52 memorandums, including ones by businesses, on cooperation in investments in third countries and other topics.
There isn’t very much by way of substance in the mutual agreements, but it was significant that both sides fell into line with each other in staging a mood of friendship.
Japan said it will be terminating its official development assistance to China, which has been in place for nearly four decades. Tokyo also said it will work with Beijing to develop infrastructure in third countries, among other projects.
Cooperation between the world’s second- and third-largest economies in laying the foundation for Asia’s development is a step forward that matches the demand of the times.
China has potential to supply an abundant pool of funds and goods. Japan has a track record in providing fair international assistance.
It is much more reasonable for both countries to cooperate for the expansion of economic development rather than compete to exert influence individually in developing nations.
The summit only amounts to a belated starting point for building truly reciprocal relations. The contentious issues of shared history and Taiwan were kept off the agenda this time. Also, little substantial progress has been made on issues involving the Senkaku Islands and security.
In the first place, the principal factor behind the Japan-China rapprochement was a feud between Washington and Beijing. Japan-China ties are easily affected by problems inherent to both countries. They are also at the mercy of shifts in external environments.
This reality remains unchanged.
To eliminate that fragility, China would have to stop its high-handed behavior, for example, its maritime advances, and refrain from appealing to its domestic audience by exploiting public sentiment against Japan.
Japan, on its part, needs to adopt a more autonomous diplomacy that is not just about following the United States. Tokyo should help stabilize the international order through diplomacy with a sense of balance.
On trade issues, Japan needs to urge the Trump administration to reconsider its protectionist stance and encourage China to operate its markets fairly.
Japan and China remain fundamentally different in notions about freedom and democracy. Tokyo should take a firm stance in the face of issues of human rights and speak up whenever necessary.
Xi said he will give a serious thought to a possible Japan visit next year. The solid foundations must be put in place to make that happen.