Frosty China, Ja­pan lead­ers’ first meet­ing

Lesotho Times - - International -

BEIJING — The meet­ing be­tween Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping of China and Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe of Ja­pan lasted only 25 min­utes, less than half the time usu­ally given to for­mal en­coun­ters be­tween the lead­ers of two na­tions.

The names of the tiny is­lands in the East China Sea that are at the core of their frosty re­la­tion­ship did not pass their lips.

The two lead­ers tried a new be­gin­ning on Mon­day at the Great Hall of the Peo­ple in Beijing, but the at­mos­phere could hardly have been cooler.

Their coun­tries’ flags, of­ten the back­drop for such diplo­matic meet­ings, were con­spic­u­ously ab­sent, lest they con­vey an im­pres­sion of amity.

And the body lan­guage? At the out­set of the meet­ing, be­fore they were seated, Mrabe spoke to Mr Xi.

The cam­eras caught the Chi­nese leader lis­ten­ing but not an­swer­ing, turn­ing in­stead for the pho­tog­ra­phers to snap an awk­ward, less than en­thu­si­as­tic hand­shake.

“Ob­vi­ously Mr Xi did not want to cre­ate a warm or cour­te­ous at­mos­phere,” said Kazuhiko Togo, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for World Af­fairs at Ky­oto Sangyo Univer­sity. “It was a very del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act for Xi.”

If the Chi­nese leader smiled too much, he would an­tag­o­nise the na­tion­al­is­tic au­di­ence at home, which has been led for more than two years to be­lieve that Mr Abe is not worth meet­ing, Mr Togo said. If he glared, he would sour world opin­ion.

The long-awaited en­counter came three days after the two coun­tries agreed to a for­mal doc­u­ment in which they recog­nised their dif­fer­ing po­si­tions on the East China Sea, in­clud­ing on the wa­ters around the is­lands known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Ja­pan.

The two sides said that “fol­low­ing the spirit of squar­ing his­tory” — an oblique ref­er­ence to Ja­pan’s bru­tal oc­cu­pa­tion of parts of China dur­ing World War II — they would seek to over­come the prob­lems in the re­la­tion­ship.

The meet­ing on Mon­day was not in­tended to de­liver any sub­stan­tive progress on ter­ri­to­rial and his­tor­i­cal is­sues that have brought the two rich­est coun­tries in Asia close to con­flict and in­flamed na­tion­al­ist sen­ti­ments, of­fi­cials from both sides said.

But Mr Abe, who ap­pears to have done most of the talk­ing dur­ing the limited time given, asked for the early in­stal­la­tion of a hot­line that could help defuse pos­si­ble clashes be­tween Chi­nese and Ja­panese ves­sels in wa­ters around the is­lands, said Kuni Sato, the press sec­re­tary for the Ja­panese For­eign Min­istry.

In gen­eral, Ms Sato said, Mr Abe told Mr Xi that China and Ja­pan should ex­plore a re­la­tion­ship that was based on strong eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion, bet­ter re­la­tions in the East China Sea and sta­bil­ity in East Asia.

Mr Abe talked about the need to curb Ebola, and about co­op­er­a­tion on deal­ing with North Korea. He also squeezed in, as an ex­am­ple of cul­tural ex­change, a men­tion of his attendance last month at a Chi­nese bal­let company’s per­for­mance in Tokyo, ac­cord­ing to Ms Sato.

Mr Xi had re­fused to con­sider a face-to-face meet­ing since be­com­ing pres­i­dent in March 2013, but Mr Abe, who was elected at the end of 2012, pub­licly re­quested the en­counter in the past few months. Ja­panese diplo­mats were sent to Beijing to ar­range the meet­ing and to com­plete the ac­cord re­leased on Fri­day, which was in­tended as a ba­sis for bet­ter re­la­tions.

The Chi­nese, as hosts of the Asia-pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion fo­rum that opened on Mon­day, re­alised they could not snub Mr Abe dur­ing the sum­mit meet­ing, and they agreed to the en­counter, Chi­nese of­fi­cials said. Pres­i­dent Obama ar­rived in Beijing for the fo­rum on Mon­day morn­ing.

That Mr Xi and Mr Abe met gives a “kick-off” to what could be an ex­ceed­ingly long process of dis­cus­sions over the fu­ture of the un­in­hab­ited is­lands, and over the dis­agree­ments over Ja­panese re­pen­tance for atroc­i­ties in China dur­ing the war, said Yang Xiyu, a se­nior fel­low at the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies and a for­mer Chi­nese diplo­mat.

“The gaps be­tween the two sides are too big to han­dle, let alone nar­row,” in such a meet­ing be­tween the two lead­ers, Mryang said.

Since tak­ing con­trol of the is­lands from the United States in 1972, Ja­pan has con­sis­tently re­fused to con­cede that there is any dis­pute over sovereignty.

China says the is­lands were taken from it by Ja­pan at the end of the 19th cen­tury.

On the ques­tion of what China sees as Ja­pan’s lack of re­pen­tance for its oc­cu­pa­tion of China, Mr Togo of Ky­oto Sangyo Univer­sity said it would be im­pos­si­ble for Mr Abe to an­nounce pub­licly that he would not visit the Ya­sukuni Shrine, a site in cen­tral Tokyo that hon­ours the na­tion’s war dead, in­clud­ing con­victed war crim­i­nals. Such a pledge would an­tag­o­nise his con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal base.

“Abe can­not say he will not go, but it doesn’t mean he will go,” Mr Togo said.

Some Ja­panese an­a­lysts said they be­lieved that Mr Abe’s visit to the shrine in De­cem­ber of last year was suf­fi­cient to sat­isfy his do­mes­tic con­stituency, al­low­ing the prime min­is­ter to fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing a mod­icum of a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with China.

Even though the four-point doc­u­ment agreed to by both coun­tries ap­peared to be evenly bal­anced to give each side “face,” the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment got the up­per hand, said Ren Xiao of Fu­dan Univer­sity in Shang­hai.

Ja­pan con­tends that there is no dis­pute over the is­lands, and that it main­tains to­tal con­trol of them. But the four-point ac­cord’s dec­la­ra­tion that there were dif­fer­ent po­si­tions over the is­lands “ful­filled China’s re­quire­ment,” he said.

That was a suf­fi­cient con­ces­sion that there was a con­flict over the is­lands, he said. —

Prime min­is­ter Shinzo Abe of Ja­pan (left) and China’s pres­i­dent, Xi Jin­ping, shook hands dur­ing a meet­ing in Beijing on mon­day.

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