President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will share an international stage for the first time on Friday since a diplomatic row between the two Asian powers broke out over Abe’s visit to a controversial war shrine.
But any contact between the two leaders at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in Russia will be kept to a mimumum. Even a handshake, which happened during the two men’s two previous encounters, is unlikely, observers said.
Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said yesterday Abe will hold his fifth summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit.
Xi will arrive in Sochi tomorrow for the opening ceremony and will also meet Putin.
Ties between China and Japan suffered a huge setback when Abe visited the Yasukuni war shrine in December, which prompted Beijing to name Abe an “unwelcome” person.
The two leaders shook hands and had a brief chat on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St Petersburg in September, during which Xi called on Japan to properly manage disputes with China. Japanese media reported the two leaders shook hands at another regional summit in Bali in Indonesia in October.
“The two leaders may not even share a handshake after the shrine visit,” said Da Zhigang, an expert in Japanese affairs at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences. He added that Russian authorities may also make arrangements to avoid the two leaders crossing paths.
Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Cheng Guoping earlier ruled out talks between Xi and Abe in Sochi and said Beijing officials would “sternly explain China’s position” if the two sides do meet.
The attendance at the opening ceremony by Xi and Abe is seen as a boost to Russia’s international standing with the absence of leaders from nations such as Germany over Russia’s adoption of a law banning the dissemination of information about homosexuality to people aged under 18.
“There are some tensions between Putin and leaders of Western powers,” said Fyodor Lukyanov at the Moscow-based Council on Foreign and Defence Policy. “It’s extremely important to show that Russia is able to attract the highest-level leaders.”
Xinhua noted that it was the second consecutive year that Xi had made Russia his first overseas trip of the year, which reflected the special nature of the Sino-Russia relationship.
Suga said Abe’s trip could help build trust between Japan and Russia to resolve their territorial disputes over the Kuril Islands in the western Pacific.
Tian Chunsheng, a Russian affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China still had the upper hand over Japan in managing political and economic ties with Russia.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse