East Asian stability relies on China and Japan thawing icy relations. Recent maritime security talks and the visit to Beijing of a large Japanese business delegation are significant positive developments. But key to repairing ties is a meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, possibly on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in the capital next month. That the sides are talking makes that more likely, although it will only take place if both are sincere about improving the relationship. Abe has long wanted such a meeting, but Beijing has rejected every request. The refusal is understandable given the Japanese leader's controversial actions, among them visiting the Yasukuni Shrine to the country's war dead including war criminals, his position on the disputed Diaoyu islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, and reinterpreting the pacifist constitution to allow troops to serve overseas. Tensions have damaged trade and investment, and growing nationalist sentiment and rising numbers of military craft in contested waters and airspace make for a dangerous environment. So the first high-level talks on maritime affairs since May 2012 were important. Yi Xianliang, deputy director general of the foreign ministry's Department of Boundary and Oceanic Affairs, and his Japanese counterpart, Makita Shimokawa, agreed last month in Qingdao to set up a maritime hotline and to resume liaisons. These are only small steps in reducing the risk of armed conflict, but the discussions show there is a willingness to decrease tensions. The next goal is to move towards creating better lines of communication. That also has to apply to trade and investment, and the right sentiments are being expressed. Vice-Premier Wang Yang told the biggest-ever delegation of Japanese businessmen to visit China that he wanted economic dialogue that had been suspended since 2010 to resume. Although bilateral trade is important for both nations, the Diaoyus conflict has caused a slump. Japanese firms are redirecting investments, which to August were down 43 per cent on the same period last year. Political hurdles remain in the way of a Xi-Abe summit. The Japanese leader has been avoiding the shrine, but he still refuses to acknowledge the Chinese position on the Diaoyus. As the Apec meeting host, though, the president will have difficulty snubbing a key member. Both sides need political wisdom and courage if relations are to move forward substantially.