High-level delegations from Japan and China met to discuss the tensions over the East China Sea—tensions that have been steadily increasing ever since 2012, when the Chinese interpreted Japan’s nationalizing of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands as an affront and began a program of increasing military and paramilitary aggression on the high seas. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The officials exchanged views on the East China Sea, the ministries said in separate statements. A group of uninhabited islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China has been at the center of the countries’ tense relations the past two years. The Qingdao meeting marked the first high-level bilateral talks on such issues since May 2012, Japan’s foreign ministry said.The talks were one of several recent signs that the regional rivals are trying to improve relations and back away from the tense military encounters and verbal sparring that have characterized their relations in recent years.
This is the biggest indication thus far that Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s recent moves and conciliatory gestures, designed to facilitate a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, may bear fruit.Abe’s critics have warned that his nationalistic stance and growing militarism would destroy Sino-Japanese relations. Instead, we are seeing more and more signs that his gamble is paying off: If China wanted to hurt Abe at home, it would have undercut him by refusing to play ball. Instead, the delegation’s participation suggests that the Chinese leadership thinks he’s the sort of person with whom they can ultimately make a deal, despite his hardline stances.The current signs of a potential détente could be a feint, but they could also be the first tentative steps toward a more stable security understanding between the two Asian giants. Objectively, open conflict in no one’s interest. If China and Japan can work together to ease tensions, it would be a good thing for the Asia and for the rest of the world.