China and Japan shake hands at APEC summit after two years of animosity
The tensions that have plagued international relations between China and Japan for over two years have thawed slightly as the countries’ leaders met for the first time for formal talks on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing.
The meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe included a particularly frosty public handshake during which both men seemed awkward.
President Xi did not smile during the photocall nor did he attempt to engage with Mr Abe’s efforts to converse with him, an obvious indication of the rawness that still engulfs their feud.
Despite the icy encounter, the meeting nonetheless marks an important advance in healing a deeply fraught dispute over islands controlled by Japan in the East China Sea. Ownership of the islands – known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China – is disputed by China, who claims the territories have been rightfully theirs since ancient times.
In 2012 the Japanese government purchased three of the islands from their private owner – a move which angered China, leading to protests and frequent sailings of Chinese government ships around the territorial waters surrounding the islands.
Offering opulent fishing grounds and strategic shipping lanes, the area is also rich in natural gas and oil depositories. Chinese and Japanese military vessels are on patrol 24/7 in the surrounding waters and any clash or miscalculation could lead to a potentially ugly conflict at any time.
The situation has raised nationalistic feelings among citizens of both China and Japan, making both leaders rigid in their approach, and resolution seems impossible.
Cooperation between the countries is certainly still in its infancy but today’s talks have been seen as a diplomatic victory for Mr Abe, who has been keen to orchestrate a meeting with president Xi for some time.
Outlining an ambitious agenda to leaders at the APEC summit on Sunday, president Xi said: “The increasingly close connection between Asia-Pacific economies has made regional economic integration all the more necessary and urgent.”
Whether the leaders of the second and third largest economies in the world can relinquish deeply rooted hostilities for their mutual benefit remains to be seen.