Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intends to accelerate the improvement of Japan-China relations through the realization of reciprocal visits with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China. Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang have exchanged congratulatory messages to celebrate the anniversary.
In his message, Abe stated, "By deepening Japan-China cooperation hand in hand, we hope to contribute by addressing various problems of the international society and live up to the expectations of the world."
Li wrote in his message that leaders and politicians of another generation made the decision to sign a treaty 40 years ago and they established a milestone for the bilateral relations.
Japan-China relations deteriorated to an unprecedented level after Japan's nationalization of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture in 2012. However, there has been some improvement partly due to Abe's announcement of Japan's cooperation under certain conditions in China's massive "One Belt, One Road" economic zone initiative.
Li visited Japan in May — the first time in seven years for a Chinese premier to do so.
Abe is eyeing a visit to China in October or is likely to visit in line with a trilateral meeting with Chinese and South Korean leaders expected to be held in Beijing by the end of this year.
Xi is expected to visit Japan in June next year when a summit meeting of the Group of 20 major and emerging economies is planned to be held in Osaka.
The idea has been mooted of issuing a political document between Japan and China on the occasion of Xi's visit to Japan.
According to sources familiar with Japan-China relations, it is hoped that the document will include such phrases stating "a mutual trust between Japan and China" and "the role of Japan-China relations in the development of the global economy" amid changes in circumstances surrounding the two countries.
In the past, the two nations issued the "Joint Communique of Japan and China" in 1972; the "Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China" in 1978; the "Japan-China Joint Declaration" in 1998; and the "Joint Statement between Japan and China on Comprehensive Promotion of a 'Mutually Beneficial Relationship Based on Common Strategic Interests" in 2008.
Should a "fifth statement" be realized, it would be a huge diplomatic achievement for Abe, observers have said.
Amid the amicable atmosphere, the Japanese government continues sending cautious signals to China. Japan promotes a "free and open Indo-Pacific strategy" to ensure the rule of law and freedom of navigation in regard to China's assertive maritime advancement.
The United States also has announced the creation of a fund to invest in infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region, which is considered a joint framework with Japan to counter China.
The Japanese government has been concerned that China might again step up anti-Japan movements by playing the card of focusing on historical issues.
"Nobody knows for sure whether the Japan-China relationship will keep on improving," said a senior official of the Foreign Ministry.
China sends signals to U.S.
Xi has clearly expressed his intention to improve the relationship with Japan, believing it is preferable to stabilize the relationship with Tokyo amid worsening U.S.-China relations partly due to trade friction.
Dai Bingguo, a Chinese former state councilor, expressed his appreciation to Japan on Saturday at a symposium to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship.
Dai said he would never forget Japan's deep involvement and support for China's reform and open-door policy.
In June, Xi emphasized the need to improve relations with its neighboring countries at an important meeting on foreign policy, with U.S.-China relations in mind.
The move to improve relations with Japan is part of Xi's policy. By showing its cooperation with Japan, China intends to send signals to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who is inclined toward protectionism.
As Xi has promoted high-quality economic development, he also intends to utilize Japan's environmental technology among others.Speech