Japanese Premier Taro Aso wrapped up his two-day visit to China on Thursday by meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao. Their talks focussed on improving ties and boosting bilateral co-operation, the global financial crisis, the current threat of swine flu and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso wants to develop a basis for stronger Sino-Japanese relations
The talks between Japan and China ended without any major surprises. Apart from some broad agreements on jointly combating the financial crisis, global warming and swine flu, there was no attempt to resolve long-running disagreements such as their dispute over natural gas territory under the East China Sea.
Although there were passing mentions of contentious issues such as Japan’s concerns about China’s growing military might or China’s misgivings about sensitive historical issues, neither side chose to go into great detail.
“Both countries realise that there can be no rapid settlement to the issues, like territorial disputes, the East China Sea dispute. Since no major breakthrough can be anticipated, and since both countries would like to maintain the momentum of good bilateral relations, they do not want to arouse controversies in a prominent manner,” said Joseph Cheng, an expert on Sino-Japanese ties in Hong Kong.
All-time low under Koizumi
Post-war relations between the two East Asian neighbours hit an all-time low when Junichiro Koizumi was in office from 2001 to 2006.
The former Japanese premier upset China with his repeated visits to the controversial Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo. The war memorial honours millions of war dead, as well as World War II leaders, who were later convicted as war criminals. Many in China find this a symbol of Japans’ past militarism offensive still today.
However, there has been a thaw in Sino-Japanese ties since Koizumi left office and none of his successors made any official visits to the shrine. These are signs that the two countries are keen to enhance their mutual understanding, says expert Joseph Cheng.
“For example, the current premier Taro Aso recently sent an offering to the shrine and emphasised it was made from his private money. China made a mild protest. Beijing also appreciates that what Aso did was certainly not meant to a confrontation against China.”
Boosting bilateral economic ties
Boosting bilateral ties was also an important topic given these difficult times when both economies are battling the global slump.
According to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua, President Hu Jintao told Aso that the two countries needed to strengthen communication and policy co-ordination in order to tackle falling bilateral trade.
“If the Chinese economy improves, China’s imports from Japan will also rise,” explained Cheng. “This will be an important stimulus for Japan’s economic recovery. And if the economies of both China and Japan improve it will be a good sign for the Asia-Pacific region.”
Aso’s talks with Chinese leaders also focussed on North Korea, which has threatened to conduct new missile tests in reaction to a UN condemnation of its recent rocket test that caused uproar worldwide. But China and Japan called on the world community to not overreact to these threats. They also agreed to seek an early resumption of six party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapon programme.