China and Japan, arch rivals in Asia, on Friday warmed up to each other as both countries stuck over 500 deals and pledged to improve their ties as the US cranks up pressure on them for trade concessions.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s three-day official China visit, the first such trip by a Japanese Premier in seven years, is a sign of a thaw in Sino-Japanese ties that nosedived in 2012 when Tokyo nationalised some islands in the East China Sea also claimed by Beijing.
After meeting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang earlier in the day, Abe met President Xi Jinping and both agreed that rivalry between both countries should stop.
“As the international situation changes, China and Japan are becoming increasingly dependent on one another. Our countries also have a growing number of common interests and concerns on a multilateral level. The rapid changes in the world are providing China and Japan with opportunities for more in-depth cooperation,” Xi said.
Abe echoed Xi’s view.
“I want to use my visit as an opportunity to elevate the Japan-China relationship to a new phase from competition to cooperation. Japan and China are neighbours and partners and we will not be a threat to each other,” the Japanese leader said.
“We need to maintain and further develop fair and free trade systems… we want to work with China for the peace and stability of the world and the region… that’s what countries around the world expect of us.”
Earlier in the day, both sides signed big deals like currency swap agreement, joint infrastructure projects in a third country and joint exploration of gas in the disputed East China Sea.
Abe’s visit came at the commemoration of 40 years to the treaty of peace and friendship between the two countries. Japan’s invasion of China and atrocities perpetuated from 1931 to 1945 still rankles in Chinese minds.
“The China-Japan relationship has gone through wind and rain in the past four decades, yet peace, friendship and cooperation have always been the mainstream,” Li said.
“On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the treaty, we need to adhere to the general direction of peace, friendship and cooperation and conform to the trend of the times so as to jointly build more mature, steady and progressive China-Japan ties.
“The two sides need to understand each other and foster their strategic positioning in a right way. The consensus that China and Japan are partners rather than mutual threats should be better implemented in concrete actions,” said Li, whose Japan visit in May this year broke the ice.
Abe said Beijing had scored remarkable achievements since its reform and opening up while Japan also stepped forward alongside China.
He said Japan and China played “an irreplaceable role” in the world’s economic progress and added that both sides will jointly contribute to the continuous development of cooperation and to world peace and prosperity.
China and Japan, the second and third largest economies in the world, have been bitter rivals. Tokyo is an old ally of the US and Beijing is a new adversary of Washington.
Experts say that with President Donald Trump’s stepping up trade pressure on China and even US allies had brought Tokyo and Beijing together.
Japan and China have a long-standing dispute over a set of islands in the East China Sea.
Tokyo is also a part of the anti-China bloc “Quad” which has the US, Australia and India as members.
However, the Japanese need greater access to the Chinese market, especially at a time when new trade problems with the US have cropped up.
China wants Japanese technology and cannot afford an anti-Beijing Japan when it is facing the heat from the US on multiple fronts.