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China-Japan relations

Beijing-Tokyo ties on the mend as Japan invites Chinese president’s right-hand man Wang Qishan to visit

Invitation extended as speculation mounts that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be in China for anniversary of landmark treaty between the two countries

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2018, 7:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2018, 10:15pm

A senior Japanese politician has invited Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan to visit Japan, in the latest sign that ties strained by territorial disputes and historical grievances are on the mend.

Wang, a trusted ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping, received a high-level Japanese delegation on Friday for a meeting said to be in preparation for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to China.

There is growing speculation that Abe will visit China around October 23, when the two nations celebrate the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which

laid the foundations for diplomatic ties.

Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, issued the invitation to Wang in Beijing on Friday.

“We hope Vice-President Wang can visit Japan soon,” Nikai was quoted by Japanese broadcaster NHK as saying.

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Wang was quoted as saying that the anniversary of the signing of the treaty was an opportunity to deepen political mutual trust and expand cooperation between China and Japan.

China and Japan have been at loggerheads over their competing claims to the East China Sea and second world war issues such as “comfort women”.

But the tensions began to ease late last year when Abe signalled his desire for better relations and to visit China. He has also invited Xi to visit Japan.

Both countries’ foreign ministers made formal visits early this year, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attended the China-Japan-South Korea summit in Tokyo in May, an event that had been on hold since 2015.

In a separate meeting in Beijing on Friday, the finance ministers of Japan and China agreed to strengthen economic cooperation amid growing concern that an escalating trade war waged by US President Donald Trump would continue to rattle global financial markets.

Chinese diplomatic observers said the string of positive signals given by both sides had increased the likelihood of Abe’s visit.

Lian Degui, an international relations expert from Shanghai International Studies University, said that if Xi did decide to visit Japan, it would be in line with international practice to send a top official first.

“But given Wang’s very top position, sending him would mean that China was paying extraordinary attention to the visit,” Lian said, adding that any visit by a Chinese leader would happen after Abe’s trip.

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Zhou Yongsheng, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University, said that if Abe’s trip went well Xi might visit Japan next year.

He added that tensions between China and the United States would help forge better relations between Beijing and Tokyo.

“The unilateral trade approach that Washington is adopting is also harming Japan, even though Japan is its closest ally in Asia. Japan has already said they would support a free and multilateral trade mechanism, meaning that they will be able to find more common ground with China on this case,” Zhou said.

Lian said the US trade tensions gave both China and Japan a chance to mend ties but it was not the overriding factor.

“Both countries have long been looking for closer trade relations,” he said.