China-Japan relations: What can happen in 13 days?



In a rare move, China’s Foreign Ministry announced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s upcoming visit on Saturday, 13 days before his arrival on Oct 25.

Normally Beijing would announce incoming visits of foreign political leaders less than a week, sometimes only two or three days even, before their arrivals.

japan-china-flagExceptions had been made before, when Beijing saw the visit as exceptionally significant.

US President Donald Trump’s visit from Nov 8-10, 2017, was announced six days in advance. Tours by Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor, were announced seven and nine days before his arrival in 2014 and 2009.

China sees it ties with the US as the most important bilateral relations, and developing Sino-US relations a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

This time, the 13-day-long lead time before Abe’s visit is unusual. It shows both countries attach exceptional significance to their mutual relations at this particular moment.

China and Japan opt to stand closer, when both countries are at odds with the US on the trade front. Both Beijing and Tokyo see the need to improve ties and leave disputes behind, at least for the time being.

Now, Abe hopes to build on a rapprochement welcomed by Beijing, which is locked in an escalating trade war with Washington, according to Reuters.


“Chart a new course”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between China and Japan.

The Chinese leadership and Abe “are expected to chart a new course for the bilateral relationship amid a complicated global situation”, China Daily said in a report on Monday.

“If the two countries can maintain a stable economic situation, then the rest of Asia might get confidence as well,” the paper quoted former Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda as saying.

Fukuda even forecast that “a chance still exists” between China and the United States to ease the worsening trade friction.

Fukuda was convinced that as the world’s top three economies, the US, China and Japan need to jointly counter protectionism, the paper added.


Chinese view Japan ‘more favourably’

With this usual 13 days ahead of Abe’s visit, Beijing has enough time to cultivate a much more favorable atmosphere.

We will be expecting to more positive news on Sino-Japanese relations, and we have already seen some.

The Chinese have come to view the Japanese more favourably, going by an annual joint opinion survey of citizens of both countries.

The survey found that 42.2 per cent of Chinese respondents reported a positive image of Japan this year. This was an 11-point jump from last year, and the highest figure since the annual poll began in 2005.

It also found that The Chinese people hope the two countries can enhance cooperation. For the Chinese officials, they expect Abe to make a relatively supportive statement on its Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

Abe may, however, shun the Belt and Road label, Reuters said.

But during his exclusive with Phoenix Television last week, Abe said Japan “is willing to offer support” to the BRI for it will lead to regional development.

Such attitude is welcomed in Beijing, for at the end of the day, economic cooperation and, strategically, mutual assurance of no-threat to each other are likely to appear on top of the agenda this time.

It won’t be surprising if both leaders play down sensitive issues, like the bitter history and the sovereign disputes over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, during their meeting in Beijing later this month.

China is Japan’s biggest trading partner. Japan is China’s second largest trading partner, after the US, and fourth biggest investor.

“To ensure that Japan has sustainable economic growth, you cannot ignore economic relations with China,” said a Japanese foreign ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, according to Reuters.


The writer is a foreign affairs analyst


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