After months of debating the question of “will Xi, won’t Xi?“, China watchers had their answer: Xi would and Xi did. This week, the Chinese President met formally with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Beijing, after two years of hard work on Abe’s part to reopen the dialogue between the leaders of world’s second and third largest economies. Finally, the diplomatic deep freeze that set in after Tokyo nationalized three islands in the Diaoyu/Senkaku chain is starting to thaw.Xi and Abe’s meeting is reported to have surpassed expectations. Most close observers of this fraught relationship predicted that the leaders would have informal talks at best. But on the heels of the surprise November 7 announcement of an accord on the maritime territorial dispute, the two held formal talks and reportedly discussed plans for diplomatic safety measures, according to the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Abe also said the two sides will set up an emergency mechanism to prevent maritime accidents. Tokyo has repeatedly called on China to set up a system to prevent the escalation of tensions at sea.“I believe we will be starting practical and administrative work to implement such a system,” Mr. Abe said.The occasion marked the first bilateral summit meeting between China and Japan since December 2011, when Wen Jiabao and Yoshihiko Noda met in Beijing.“I am aware that our neighbors in Asia and many countries beyond had been hoping to see dialogue between Japanese and Chinese leaders,” Mr. Abe said. “We were able to respond to such wishes and begin taking steps toward repairing our ties.”
It is heartening to see Asia’s two great powers begin to seek the basis for a peaceful resolution to the conflict that might have made the East China Sea a possible theater of war. As we wrote recently, China’s decision to take a less confrontational approach to diplomacy is also good news for the U.S., and an important win for the Obama Administration. Indeed, the “pivot to Asia” (incomplete though it was), backed by a newly assertive Japan and widespread support among China’s neighbors for the American position, seems to be doing the job.