Tokyo Report

Are China and Japan Moving Towards a Rapprochement?

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Tokyo Report

Are China and Japan Moving Towards a Rapprochement?

Chinese foreign minister says that China expects more good news from Japan after Japanese Prime Minister’s surprise move.

Are China and Japan Moving Towards a Rapprochement?
Credit: Prime Minister’s Office of Japan

As this year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-China relations, both China and Japan have shown increasing signs that they are moving toward a long-awaited rapprochement. On September 28, immediately after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a surprise appearance at a Chinese event in Tokyo, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Yokoi Yutaka, the Japanese Ambassador to China, in Beijing. In the meeting, Wang told Yokoi that China expects more good news from Japan.

As The Diplomat reported, Abe showed up in a ceremony marking China’s National Day as well as the 45th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral relations at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo on September 28. It was the first time in 15 years that a Japanese prime minister had attended the event. His surprise appearance has been regarded by both Chinese and Japanese media as Japan’s most apparant move toward reconciliation with China in recent years.

In return, Wang met with Yokoi in Beijing and sent a goodwill signal to Japan, too. He said:  

Over the past 45 years, the China-Japan relations have achieved important progress against all odds. We should cherish the dedicated efforts of the older generations of Chinese and Japanese leaders and further improve and develop China-Japan relations. This is the due historical responsibility of the two sides.

In particular, Wang emphasized that Abe’s attendance to the Chinese event was good news to China. He added:

We look forward to more good news on China-Japan relations rather than bad news after the good news. We hope that the Japanese government can adopt a more positive policy towards China, take more actions that are conducive to bilateral cooperation and achieve the sound interaction of China-Japan relations instead of retreating one step after taking one step forward or even retreating two steps after taking one step forward.

Meanwhile, for the first time in 10 years, Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has exchanged congratulatory messages, hailing the 45th anniversary of the relations’ normalization.

In fact, both China and Japan have been frequently signaling each other, in direct or indirect ways, in recent months.

On Japan’s part, Abe’s administration said they would take part in China’s signature Belt and Road Initiative and would consider joining the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Furthermore, on August 15, 2017 — the day marked Japan’s surrender in World War II — neither Abe nor his cabinet members visited the highly controversial Yasukuni Shrine for a memorial ceremony; it was the first time in 37 years that none of a ruling cabinet member visited the shrine for the event. Consequently, the news was widely reported in China.

In comparison, China’s signals look less salient, but also positive. In July, China held a ceremony to memorize the 80th anniversary of Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which led to China’s full-scale war with Japan in 1937. Yet, China significantly downplayed the event this year, compared to the time when Chinese President Xi Jinping personally attended the 77th anniversary ceremony and gave a public speech. In addition, China held multiple events to mark the 45th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-China relations in August. For example, on August 29, a thousand of Chinese and Japanese students were invited to attend a ceremony in Beijing, and Chinese vice premier Liu Yandong also sent congratulatory messages.

To make matters better, currently both foreign ministers of Japan and China actually have profound knowledge of each other’s country: on the Chinese side, Wang studied Japanese in college and speaks Japanese well; he had been a Chinese Ambassador to Japan from 2004 to 2007. It was reported that Wang, having good personal ties in Japan, had played an important role in helping Abe to visit China for the first time as a Prime Minister in 2006. Wang’s current counterpart, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, also has profound relations with China.  Taro Kono is the son of Yohei Kono, a former Japanese foreign minister and deputy prime minister. Yohei is famous for his friendly attitude toward China. Until now, Yohei has been frequently invited by Beijing to attend various political events. Thus, when Taro assumed his post, many analysts both in China and Japan hoped that he would follow his father’s political footsteps.