Beijing,Tokyo must work towards a summit to repair frayed ties

China and Japan are too economically dependent on one another to allow circumstances to evolve into a crisis

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 10:15pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 10:15pm

Relations between China and Japan have become so frayed that it will take more than a visit by a high-ranking official to smooth ties. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s recent three-day trip to Beijing was therefore always going to be centred on damage control. Understandably, nothing substantive came from his meetings, although hopes have been raised of a leaders’ summit later this year. This is how ties have to progress until there is better rapport: one small step at a time.

Both nations at least showed a willingness to improve ties. Kishida received a high-level reception of the likes given to American officials. He met Premier Li Keqiang (李克強 ), State Councillor Yang Jiechi (楊潔箎) and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅), during which he called for collaboration on finance, tourism, energy and disaster relief. These were positive signs, although the cautious note expressed in Chinese and Japanese media pointed to the limited extent of progress.

Mistrust and suspicions run deep on both sides, with history as a backdrop and territorial disputes and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s nationalism daunting impediments. For China, the leader’s actions and remarks amount to a credibility problem that makes talks of little use. Tokyo’s interference in the South China Sea issue, of which Japan is not a claimant, have further angered Beijing. China’s military build-up and perceived regional unilateralism have caused concern among Japanese, their allies and some Southeast Asian nations.

But there can be no improvement in ties without sustained interaction between the sides at all levels. Kishida’s trip was the first to China by a Japanese foreign minister in four years, while there has been no such visit to Japan by China’s top diplomat since 2009. Li may attend the China, Japan and South Korea trilateral summit later this year, although that depends on how relations fare in coming months. A Japanese-coerced declaration at the end of last month’s Group of Seven meeting of leading industrialised nations in Hiroshima criticising Chinese actions in the East and South China seas make plain the challenges.

The moderate language used during Kishida’s trip showed an understanding of the need to bring matters under control. China and Japan are too economically dependent on one another to allow circumstances to evolve into a crisis. Domestic and global circumstances dictate that they need to cooperate. China’s hosting of the G20 summit in Hangzhou (杭州 ) in September offers a chance for President Xi Jinping (習近平 ) and Abe to meet; that can at least be a goal.