Sino-Japanese Relations
Will Japan and China Really Ease Tensions?

Japan’s foreign minister is in Beijing this weekend meeting with his Chinese counterpart in an effort to reduce tensions between the two Asian powers. The Japan Times:

The foreign ministers of Japan and China agreed Saturday to step up efforts to accelerate the pace of improvement in political relations between Asia’s two biggest economies.

The Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, which announced the agreement, said Fumio Kishida and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, confirmed in their meeting in Beijing that the two countries are “partners for cooperation” and will not be “a threat for each other.”

Kishida stressed the need of stronger mutual trust by promoting cooperation in various nonpolitical fields, such as economics, the environment and youth exchanges, according to the ministry.

As part of steps to increase interaction among the citizens of the two countries, Kishida told Wang that Japan will further relax multiple entry visa rules for Chinese visitors.

Kishida’s trip marks the first visit of a Japanese foreign minister to China in about 4½ years at a time when the two countries are weighing up when and how to realize more frequent high-level political meetings.

Whatever went on behind closed doors, there was certainly plenty to discuss. According to official accounts, Kishida and Yi discussed the South China Sea, Taiwan, and North Korea in a four hour-long meeting Saturday.

But to get anything done on such a broad set of issues, they will almost certainly need more time than that they took. On North Korea, Japan has been pushing China to be tougher on its misbehaving ally. Although Beijing did sign on to UN sanctions (whether it is enforcing them is another matter), it has resisted pressure to do any more. With Pyongyang expected to conduct another nuclear test and more missile tests in the coming months, it’s likely that North Korea will make Japan-China relations more difficult in the near future.

Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, China has shown no signs of backing off its island fortification efforts. From installing missile systems to landing military aircraft on advanced landing strips, Beijing clearly has no intention of scaling back its plans.

Japan, of course, is more concerned with the East China Sea, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gone toe-to-toe with President Xi Jinping. Japan turned on a radar system in March, and has sailed numerous ships near the islands while stationing fighter jets at the nearby Okinawa base. China responded by sailing its own destroyers through the straits.

So though it’s quite good all told that China and Japan are talking, both sides have taken positions that don’t allow for much give.

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