For months, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been trying to secure a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in order to re-open highest-level relations between the two superpowers. The “will they, won’t they” debate has kept Asia observers riveted for months, as they watch the diplomatic moves as avidly as the volleys in a tennis match: Abe neglects to visit a historically contentious war shrine but still sends flowers, the Chinese silence is deafening. Abe reshuffles his cabinet to include more Beijing-friendly deputies, top Chinese officials signal Xi’s intentions to meet. And so on.With the APEC conference, the purported venue for this meeting, slated to begin next week, the latest volley puts the ball in the “no talks” court. The Chinese state newspaper Xinhua has revealed what can be assumed to be Beijing’s current official stance, at least according to Reuters. Xinhua:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has spared no efforts, at least as his previous announcements go, in seeking to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping during this multilateral event [APEC].His wish will be fulfilled, since Beijing, the host of this forum, will undoubtedly receive the Japanese leader with etiquette and hospitality, despite chronic territorial rows and historical feud with Tokyo.However, that does not necessarily mean Abe’s long-sought formal talks with Xi during APEC would come true, which demands Abe extend good faith and take real action to create the proper atmosphere.Unfortunately, bilateral relations, constantly troubled by Japan’s attempts to wash off its war-time atrocities, have not seen such action from Japan even when the trans-Pacific meeting is soon to come.
After noting that many of Abe’s deputies still visited the controversial Yakusuni Shrine even when the PM himself decided not to, Xinhua continues:
In short, it seems nothing more than a mere clumsy political stunt for the island country to advocate dialogue and fence-mending with neighbors on the one hand, while sticking to the bigoted course of fomenting strife and misgivings on the other.
The Xinhua piece closes by putting the onus for repairing relations squarely on Tokyo’s shoulders:
[…] defrosting the relations between China and Japan, two regional and global stakeholders, primarily depends on Japan’s initiative and activity to create the appropriate atmosphere for the leaders’ meeting.Without those, Tokyo’s call for a China-Japan summit would be no more than meaningless waste of breath.
This bodes ill for Abe, who is often criticized at home for alienating Japan’s neighbors with his embrace of militarism and nationalism. Defrosting relations with China would be a big coup for the PM, and he’s certainly been working all out to make it happen.It’s also bad news for all those who hoped for a slight easing of Asia’s always-tense geopolitics and closer ties between the world’s second- and third-biggest economies. But if watching the drama surrounding this prospective meeting has taught us anything, it’s never to assume that the latest volley will be the last.