China and Japan revive goodwill gestures to mark diplomatic milestone
As election and North Korean missiles loom, Japanese leader makes first appearance at National Day celebration hosted by Chinese embassy
China and Japan have extended olive branches to mark the 45th anniversary of their diplomatic relations, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe making a rare appearance at an event hosted by the Chinese embassy in Tokyo.
Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also exchanged congratulatory messages, the first time that leaders at that level had done so in a decade.
In his message to Li, Abe said he hoped to advance cooperation and exchanges in all areas and build a stable friendship. He also said he was looking forward to meeting Li at the China-Japan-South Korea summit later this year.
Li said China held relations with Japan in high regard, and would like to improve the ties “in the spirit of taking history as a mirror and looking into the future”.
China and Japan skipped the message exchange for the 40th anniversary in 2012 after Tokyo nationalised the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan.
But in a sign of rapprochement, Abe attended a joint celebration for the 45th anniversary and China’s National Day hosted by the Chinese embassy in Tokyo on Thursday night.
It was the first time in 15 years that an incumbent Japanese prime minister had appeared at such an event, and a first for Abe.
Observers said the Japanese leader was driven to make the gesture by domestic political needs and regional security concerns, with Abe calling a snap election just hours earlier.
Abe has been dogged by a cronyism scandal this year and despite getting a small bump in his sagging approval ratings from a cabinet reshuffle and the escalation of the North Korea nuclear crisis, he and his Liberal Democratic Party still face a tough challenge from the opposition led by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike.
Jiang Yuechun, a Japan specialist at the China Institute of International Studies, said Abe aimed to improve ties with China to boost his election chances.
Jiang said it was important for Japan to have better links with China as security in the region worsened and the island nation was exposed to the threat of North Korean missiles.
Zhang Jiefeng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Japan was also being tested by uncertainties in its once-solid alliance with the United States, prompting Tokyo to appear to move closer to Beijing.
Zhang said there were many areas in which the Chinese and Japanese economies complemented each other.
“But Sino-Japanese cooperation has been affected by strategic calculations and we have seen some competition become vicious,” he said.
Observers said China was wary of Sino-Japanese ties derailing as they did in 2013 when Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine to Japan’s war dead.
In a meeting with Japanese ambassador to China Yutaka Yokoi on Friday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Japan should not take two steps back for every step forward in Sino-Japanese relations.
“I hope the Japanese government adopts a more positive China policy and makes more steps towards cooperation,” Wang said.
Jiang said the strategic competition between the world’s second and third-biggest economies would continue.
“Abe clearly has dual tactics in dealing with China,” Jiang said. “But it is also in China’s interests to improve relations. So both sides want dialogue.”