Talks between President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are the best way to break the stalemate over the disputed Diaoyu islands and start repairing ties. Discord is such that they have gone out of their way to avoid meeting one another; a multilateral setting at which there is a chance of dialogue offers the best opportunity. There is no better venue for that than the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing in November. But for that to happen, the Japanese leader has to first show resolve by avoiding repeating his mistake of visiting the Yasukuni shrine.
A Japanese official has hinted that Abe will avoid the shrine honouring war dead for the August 15 anniversary of Japan's second world war defeat. China has made that a pre-condition for talks, so it would obviously be a good start. But Abe's nationalist tendencies and pressure from the political far right make for uncertainties; he went to Yasukuni last December with dozens of other politicians, outraging Beijing and Seoul and displeasing ally Washington. Offence will be caused even if he sends a ritual offering or his colleagues visit.
Abe has called for talks with Xi and sent a personal message expressing that desire through former prime minister Yasuo Fukuda, who visited Beijing last month. Xi reportedly agreed that there was a need for dialogue, but China has been firm on conditions regarding Yasukuni and the territorial dispute. Beijing's position is understandable: Abe's shrine visit, his pushing for a reinterpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution so that the military can fight overseas and perceived disregard for his country's imperial war-time aggression against its neighbours casts doubt over his sincerity.
The costs of continued tension between China and Japan, the world's second and third-biggest economies, is high. Trade, crucial for economic reform plans, has been disrupted. Dialogue, negotiation and cooperation are needed to solve shared problems. A public statement by Abe that the Yasukuni shrine will not be on his agenda will set the right tone for talks.