Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while criticizing Beijing for its attempts to coercively “change the status quo” in the East China Sea, noted that Japan and China were tied together economically. “China’s growth is a chance for Japan, and for the world as well. China is Japan’s largest trading partner and we are in inseparable relations economically,” Abe told a symposium hosted by the Economist magazine in Tokyo on Thursday.
He adds, “On the other hand, it is true that China is challenging the status quo with force in the East China Sea and South China Sea.” Abe’s statement refers to China’s actions both in the East China Sea vis-a-vis Japan and South Korea, and in the South China Sea where it is engaged in territorial disputes with several Southeast Asian states.
“It is necessary for not only Japan but many other countries to prompt China to grow peacefully as a responsible country,” Abe added, echoing language similar to that which is used by the United States.
Abe’s remarks come at a time when relations between China and Japan are at their lowest point in recent memory. Strained by a long-standing dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s image in China, bilateral relations are at a standstill.
However, there are signs that China and Japan may be entering a period of relative detente. Neither Shinzo Abe nor Chinese President Xi Jinping have met in a formal setting (although the two briefly brushed shoulders at last year’s APEC Summit). Still, as The Diplomat noted earlier, high-profile exchanges have somewhat resumed between the two countries.
Hu Deping, the son of former reformist General Secretary of the CCP Hu Yaobang, visited Tokyo earlier this month with the approval of both the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Communist Party. In a somewhat reciprocal move, newly elected Tokyo governor Yoichi Masuzoe will go to Beijing next week. Masuzoe’s visit is aimed mostly at increasing city-to-city diplomacy between Beijing and Tokyo.
Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University, told Reuters that “If two important cities from the two countries can start to mend the relationship, of course that will have a positive impact on the whole China-Japan relationship … This shows that both sides want to open a channel for dialogue outside of the central government.”