Holding formal talks for the first time since May of 2012, Chinese President Jinping Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took steps to improve Sino-Japanese relations on Nov. 10 at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting held in Beijing, China. The high-level dialogue followed an announcement on Nov. 7 that the two countries would hold talks about their differing positions on the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and work to establish crisis management mechanisms. According to the New York Times, this meeting marked a departure from Japan’s past refusals to cooperate and even resulted in the country’s acknowledgement of Chinese claims to the islands’ sovereignty.
“Japan is realizing that they cannot continue being aggressive towards China, and are thus trying to reconciliate” said Alex Lopez-Barton, Asian Studies teacher. “The government does not want these controversies to hurt economic ties and trade between the two countries, especially as its economy has been struggling over the last two decades.”
However, according to the Wall Street Journal, tensions may emerge yet again between the two countries as a result of Japanese politicians’ visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where dead soldiers, including war criminals from the Second World War, are enshrined. Because these visits strained diplomatic relations and ignited Anti-Japanese sentiments in the past, China requested that Prime Minister Abe not pay homage at the shrine. However, Abe has not responded to China with such a promise.
“I think that politicians honoring war criminals enshrined at [Yasukuni Shrine] is a big deal because it gives off the impression that the Japanese government is not repenting for its past aggressions,” said David Cho (12), Asian Studies student. “But [Prime Minister Abe] is not going to stop them from doing so because his party uses such provocative actions as a way to attract the support of conservative voters.”
The reconciliation of the two countries could put pressure on Korea due to fears of being sidelined, according to the Financial Times. Korean President Geun-hye Park has not held formal talks with Prime Minister Abe yet due to territorial rows and historical disputes. According to Mr. Lopez, US officials would welcome signs of improving ties between Korea and Japan as they hope to enhance a trilateral security alliance.
“The US has been wary of China’s growing influence and power,” Mr. Lopez said. “At the same time, it is concerned that territorial and historical disputes are creating conflict between major powers in the region, as it wants to avoid becoming embroiled in the confrontations.”