Shinzo Abe’s visit to China a sign of warming relations

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    Japan’s firm stance on sovereignty over East China Sea islands caused the break in relations [Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images]

    Shinzo Abe will pay the first visit to China by a Japanese prime minister since 2011 later this month in the latest sign of warming ties between the Asian rivals.

    Abe will visit from October 25 to 27 and mark the 40th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two nations, said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang on Friday.    

    The visit will “elevate our bilateral ties and put bilateral cooperation back on the right track,” Lu said.

    Lu added that the two sides will work to “jointly uphold multilateralism and the free trade system” – a comment that comes as China and the United States are mired in a trade war that the IMF said this week will affect global growth.

    Lu said a reception has been planned to celebrate the Sino-Japanese friendship treaty, which was signed on October 23, 1978.

    Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met numerous times over the last few years on the sidelines of international events    

    But no Japanese prime minister has paid an official visit to China since 2011 and no Chinese president has visited Japan since 2010.

    Softening stands 

    Relations between Beijing and Tokyo soured in 2012 over a territorial dispute over several tiny Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea.

    Upon returning to power in 2012, Abe took a firm position on Japan’s sovereignty over the island chain, aggravating tensions with Beijing.

    But he has since softened his rhetoric and called on China to press North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programmes.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping has made efforts to improve economic relations with other countries as the US imposes tariffs [Kirill Kudryavtsev/AP Photo]

    Abe announced last month that he planned to visit China later this year.

    “After that, I very much wish to invite President Xi to Japan,” Abe said after meeting the Chinese leader on the sidelines of an economic forum in Russia.

    “Through this exchange of visits at the leaders’ level, I hope to raise Japan-China relations to a new stage. I am firmly determined in this regard,” he had said.

    Japanese businesses have also voiced a desire for closer ties with China to boost trade.

    Despite the rapprochement, sources of tension linger.

    Last month, Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said China had been “unilaterally escalating” its military activities in the past year, including carrying out new airborne operations around Japan and running a nuclear submarine near disputed East Coast isles.

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    Japan also carried out in September its first submarine drills in the disputed South China Sea, which Beijing mostly claims. At the time, the Chinese foreign ministry said Tokyo “should act cautiously and avoid doing anything which would harm regional peace and stability”.

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