China-Japan relations improve as leaders plan Autumn meeting

By Rebecca Unsworth, May 8, 2014

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Japan and China are edging their way toward talks in the Autumn with the countries' two leaders planning to convene at a formal meeting, according to political analysts.

The nations suffer a notoriously strained relationship stemming from a dispute over ownership of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and Tokyo’s alleged lack of atonement for its wartime history. However, Masahiko Komura, the vice president of Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party, held talks with Zhang Dejiang, the third-ranking member of the Communist Party, during his three day visit to Beijing, and told the Chinese leader that Japan's Prime Minister is ready to meet with President Xi Jinping.

According to SCMP, "Komura told Zhang that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was ready to hold a formal meeting with President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in the Chinese capital in the autumn. Zhang told Komura he would relay the message to Xi, Komura told reporters after the meeting."

High-level communications between the two states were suspended after Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni shrine that commemorates Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including war criminals. The visit angered Beijing, with the capital calling Abe "unwelcome".

However, according to experts this latest meeting shows that tensions between the two nations are easing. Lin Xiaoguang, an international relations expert at the Central Party School, said “It is a little surprise that Zhang met Komura. It shows that China is also taking steps to break the diplomatic stalemate between the two nations.”

Professor Lian Degui, at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said that an easing of tensions is inevitable as Abe would come to China for the APEC summit and that both leaders would be embarrassed if Sino-Japan tensions remained high. “There will inevitably be some kind of encounter between the two leaders during the summit and neither of them want embarrassment. The exchanges nowadays are making the conditions easier for the two leaders, hopefully creating momentum for serious exchanges between them during the APEC summit," he said.

A series of low-level meetings also took place before Komara's visit further sweetening inter-state relations. These included last month's Beijing visit from newly-elected Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe and Hu Deping, the son of the late Communist Party general secretary Hu Yaobang, paying a week-long visit to Japan to meet Abe.

Professor Lin said that if Japan avoided further provoking China through moves such as high-profile visits to the Yasukuni shrine, then "the right sentiment" will be created for the Autumn exchange. “If Tokyo is quiet over the next few months, the low-level exchanges taking place will create the right sentiment for the two leaders to meet,” he said.

[Image: Wen Jiabao meets with representatives from Japan and South Korean in 2010. Via Flickr]

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