Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a concerted diplomatic effort over the course of several months to secure a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. But will he pay a high price for face time with his Chinese counterpart? According to The Diplomat’s Zachary Keck, the Japanese PM made a dramatic concession regarding the tense Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute in order to arrange the meeting:
[…] if the report is accurate, Abe’s acknowledgement that a territorial dispute [over the islands] exists and proposal to settle the issue through mutual dialogue represent huge concessions to long-standing Chinese demands.
The Japanese government has always refused to acknowledge that a territorial dispute even exists with China over the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing refers to as the Diaoyu Islands. “There exists no issue of territorial sovereignty to be resolved concerning the Senkaku Islands,” Japan has said on numerous occasions.
The Chinese media, with government backing, will try to spin it as a big win and a Japanese concession. Keck notes:
Some in China are already taking the concession as a sign of Japanese weakness. Specifically, the Global Times quoted Yang Bojiang, director of Japanese studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, as saying: “Abe is under economic pressure to resume talks with China and advance the bilateral relationship, so he has to show the world his willingness to talk.”
However, Japan’s nationalization of the islands back in 2012 isn’t being reversed, with China apparently abandoning its insistence on that point.
Instead of a Japanese surrender, this appears to be a somewhat sensible negotiation in which both sides give something up and gain something. Abe will get a boost at home as tensions with China fall—one of his opponents’ big talking points is that he’s screwed the China relationship up. Now that is off the table.
Meanwhile, China actually needs a good relationship with Japan—something that Chinese nationalists have a hard time wrapping their heads around. Japan is so small, and China so big…and yet, Japanese investment is of no small importance.
If this meeting takes place (and it’s still the subject of much speculation, despite promising signs like this one), it’s likely to signal China’s grumpy acquiescence to a newly active Japan, driven by Beijing’s realization that there isn’t much it can do to affect Tokyo one way or the other.