Synopsis

While the visual impact of the meeting between Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe was uninspiring, the communiqué regarding the disputed East China Sea islets is a positive step. The test of success, however, will be to see what effect it has on the two countries’ rhetoric and behaviour.

Commentary

THE APEC Summit that recently concluded in Beijing was a forum for many memorable images, most notably the uncomfortable handshake between China’s President Xi Jinping and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This long-delayed meeting was the follow-up of a communiqué drafted on 7 November 2014, when State Councillor Yang Jiechi held talks with visiting National Security Advisor of Japan Shotaro Yachi in Beijing.

 

At that prior meeting the two sides reached a four-point principled agreement to arrest deteriorating bilateral relations. The agreement’s four terms are that the two sides: 1) affirm they will follow the principles and spirit of the four political documents between China and Japan and continue developing the China-Japan strategic relationship for mutual benefit; 2) agree on overcoming political obstacles in the bilateral relationship; 3) acknowledge that different positions exist between them regarding tensions over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and some waters in the East China Sea, and agree to prevent these tensions from escalating via dialogue and consultation and to establish crisis management mechanisms to avoid contingencies; and 4) agree to gradually resume political, diplomatic, and security dialogue through various multilateral and bilateral channels and to make efforts to build political mutual trust.

 

Empty Gestures or Crucial First Step?

Opinion on the significance of the communiqué and the subsequent handshake is divided between optimists and pessimists. Pessimists assert that these are little more than symbolic, and that no real reduction in regional tensions will result. كيفية اللعب في bet365 Evidence for this lies in the fact that hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels have been appearing off the Ogasawara Islands, preparing for illegal coral fishing. Furthermore, Abe declared there has been no change in Japan’s stance on the isles at the heart of the territorial dispute.

 

Along those lines, the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun declared that the reference to “different views” do “not impair Japan’s position so far that ‘there is no territorial dispute’”. It said Tokyo has “firmly” maintained its stance, quoting an anonymous Foreign Ministry official as saying, “the Japanese side has not made any concession on territory”. This contrasts with the triumphalism of the Chinese media, proclaiming that Abe conceded to China’s demands.

 

Ultimately, pessimists do not see this as any real compromise on stances and that competing national interests ensure that regional tensions over maritime and sovereignty claims will persist.

 

Optimists choose to grade these meetings on a curve, however. Even having this meeting is a positive step, considering the low baseline of bilateral relations. The “differing positions” quoted is the closest the Abe administration has come to acknowledging China also claims sovereignty over the islets, and allows both parties to save face, which is what diplomatic statements must do. Moreover, revitalisng the talks on establishing a hotline to be used for direct contact in case of incidents is a major part of the meeting.

 

Interestingly, Beijing also avoided sending any vessels at all to the Diaoyus/Senkakus’ contiguous zone during a two-week period in October. Ultimately, optimists assert that at this stage, it is about arresting the downward trend in bilateral relations more than anything else, and by this metric the meetings and communiqué are a success. Furthermore, meetings and agreements such as these – however modest – are what paves the way for improved bilateral relations.