China invites Japan along belt and road as Shinzo Abe makes landmark trip to Beijing
- Japanese prime minister pledges to elevate bilateral relationship to a ‘new dimension’
- Beijing and Tokyo must work together as ‘problems that cannot be resolved by one country alone multiply’
Beijing would welcome Japan’s involvement in China’s overseas infrastructure projects, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday as the two countries marked the 40th anniversary of a mutual friendship treaty.
Li made the offer in a meeting with Shinzo Abe, the first Japanese prime minister to visit China in seven years.
“China and Japan have to stick to the path of peace, friendship and cooperation to build a more mature and consolidated China-Japan relationship,” Li was quoted by state-run CCTV as saying.
“China welcomes Japan to take part in the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’,” he said, referring to President Xi Jinping’s signature push to link economies into a China-centred trading network.
The two nations had to step up cooperation to foster mutual trust, and work together to protect multilateralism, Li added.
Abe pledged to lift Tokyo’s often-tense relations with Beijing into a “new dimension” in a “new era” of cooperation.
“Today, Japan and China are playing an essential role in economic growth not only in Asia but in the world,” he said.
“As problems that cannot be resolved by one country alone have risen, the time has come for Japan and China to jointly contribute to world peace and prosperity.”
Abe will hold further talks with Li on Friday, take part in a forum on infrastructure projects and visit Peking University, before having a meeting and attending a dinner with Xi.
With Donald Trump in the White House, China and Japan have made concerted efforts to mend ties in recent months. Trump’s “America first” drive has raised fears among Washington’s Asian allies, including Tokyo, that the superpower might not maintain its strong presence in the region.
Trump’s trade war has also pushed China to consolidate ties with its neighbour to head off US attempts to isolate Beijing.
But the rapprochement between the two countries has divided Japan, with some questioning if it is worth risking upsetting the United States, one of the island nation’s key allies.
One Japanese official familiar with China-Japan relations said there were risks but Abe’s trip was necessary.
“We need to keep a balance,” the official said, adding that “the US may get suspicious of Japan getting too close to China”.
The official also questioned whether China’s push to improve ties with Japan would go beyond the short term.
“China needs a friend now when it has a trade war with the US. But what will happen when its relations with the US improve?”
Ties between China and Japan have long been plagued by wartime grievances and competing sovereignty claims over the East China Sea.
They nosedived in 2012 when Japan nationalised part of the Senkaku Islands, also known as the Diaoyus, a chain of islets claimed by both countries.
Relations deteriorated further in 2013 when Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 class A war criminals from the second world war, prompting Chinese officials to describe the prime minister as an “unwelcome person”.
Additional reporting by Kyodo