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UPDATED: December 2, 2014 NO. 47 NOVEMBER 20, 2014
A Glimmer of Hope
Despite a promising signal, steep obstacles remain in the way of improving Sino-Japanese political ties
By Bai Shi

A PROMISING SIGN: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe greet one another during a meeting at the request of the Japanese side in Beijing on November 10 (MA ZHANCHENG)

Hopes for improving Sino-Japanese relations rose as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a meeting in Beijing ahead of the 22nd Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting on November 10-11.

The meeting, which was held on November 10 at the request of the Japanese side, was the first between Chinese and Japanese leaders since bilateral relations became strained following a number of disputes over historical and territorial issues over the past two years.

In 2012, the Japanese Government announced its "purchasing" the Diaoyu Islands, part of China's territory, which prompted China to issue a stern rebuke. After Abe took office as prime minister for the second time in late 2012, Japan continued to take a tough stance on territorial disputes, intensifying tensions with China. Both Chinese and Japanese ships enhanced patrols around the disputed waters and led to some conflicts. As a result, political talks between the two sides were suspended.

Aside from territorial disputes, the Japanese Government has made some other ill-considered moves. In July, the Abe administration approved a controversial reinterpretation of Japan's constitution to end a ban on allowing its military forces to exercise the right to collective self-defense, which many observers believe is the first step in what could be the renewed militarization of Japan.

Historical bad blood between the two sides also complicates current relations. The Japanese Government has long held an ambiguous attitude regarding the Japanese army's atrocities during World War II (WWII). Many Japanese politicians have repeatedly paid homage at the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A WWII war criminals, in spite of strong opposition from countries that suffered at the hands of Japanese invasion during the war. Last year, Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine had a serious impact on Japan's relations with its East Asian neighbors. Besides China, South Korea also denounced Abe's actions.

Earlier this year, Abe repeatedly stated at some international events that he hoped to meet with the Chinese leader during the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Beijing. In response, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the Japanese side to create a necessary and sound atmosphere for the meeting.

A breakthrough in the diplomatic row was made just days before the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting.

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and visiting National Security Advisor of Japan Shotaro Yachi reached a four-point agreement during talks in Beijing on November 7. In the spirit of "facing history squarely and looking forward to the future," the two sides agreed to resume political, diplomatic and security dialogue while acknowledging differing positions on the Diaoyu Islands.

Observers said that the agreement is a result of mounting domestic and international pressure on the Abe administration.

Eventually, Abe appeared to have adjusted his China policy. During his meeting with Xi, Abe said that Japan is determined to continue on a path of peaceful development, noting that the current Japanese administration will maintain the same views held by previous governments on historical issues.

Japan is willing to implement the four-point agreement, properly handle related issues and make it the new starting point for promoting the improvement and development of the strategic and mutually beneficial relations between Japan and China, Abe said.

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