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Landmark China-Japan Summit

30 October 2018

30 October 2018

Last week’s visit to China by Japanese Prime Minister Abe has opened a new chapter in relations between the two strongest powers in Asia. For several years relations remained cool because of disputes over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and Abe’s visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. 

When Beijing hosted APEC in November 2014, Xi and Abe shared an awkward handshake. In May 2018, Premier Li Keqiang visited Japan for the China–Japan–ROK trilateral summit as well as a bilateral visit with Abe. Now, as both countries are threatened by Trump’s tariff policies, they are seeking to rebuild ties.

Abe, who was accompanied by a huge business delegation, met with President Xi and Premier Li and agreed to intensify their dialogue and cooperate on innovation. The also agreed to make it easier for their financial markets to work together and vowed to uphold free trade principles. There are also plans for a wider regional economic partnership and a special trade zone linking up China, Japan and South Korea. Significantly, China and Japan agreed to cooperate on 50 joint infrastructure projects, including projects under China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

It was not only trade on the agenda. Both sides also discussed the latest developments on the Korean peninsula. Japan has in the past warned against any rush to appease Pyongyang and was sceptical about the benefits of a Trump-Kim summit. In Beijing, Abe said Tokyo was determined to normalise diplomatic relations with Pyongyang if there was progress on denuclearisation and the release of Japanese citizens. China and Japan also agreed to cooperate on maritime search and rescue operations and to resume defence consultations and naval visits. 

President Xi also accepted an invitation to visit Japan in 2019.  While most Asian countries have welcomed the thaw in relations between Beijing and Tokyo, there has been a more muted reaction from Washington which now views China as their main strategic competitor.