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Japan’s Abe to make rare China visit as relations thaw

Shinzo Abe

Beijing, China | AFP | Japan’s Shinzo Abe is due to arrive in China Thursday, the first visit to the Asian giant by a Japanese prime minister since relations between the two countries soured six years ago over a territorial row.

Abe and Chinese president Xi Jinping are expected to discuss how to improve economic cooperation as the world’s second and third largest economies prepare to weather a US onslaught of trade measures.

Japanese business is eager for increased access to China’s massive market, while Beijing is interested in Japanese technology and corporate knowhow.

The visit is the first by a Japanese premier since 2011 and is part of a years-long process of repairing relations in the wake of a disastrous falling-out in 2012, when Tokyo “nationalised” disputed islands claimed by Beijing.

The incident prompted anti-Japanese riots in China, and kicked off a frosty spell that has only recently begun to thaw.

Since an awkward 2014 encounter between Abe and Xi on the sidelines of a summit, there have been ministerial visits by both sides and a softening of rhetoric.

Abe’s three-day trip to Beijing sets up the possibility that the Chinese leader will visit Japan next year.

The two leaders are likely to focus on a range of potential deals, including joint investments in infrastructure in regional nations including Indonesia and the Philippines.

They are also expected to discuss the territorial issue that put their relationship into a deep freeze.

Just days before Abe’s trip, Tokyo lodged an official complaint after Chinese ships cruised around the disputed islands that Tokyo calls the Senkaku and Beijing labels the Diaoyu islands.

China has long denounced Japan for what it says is an insufficiently contrite attitude towards its role in the Second World War.

But ahead of the trip, Beijing has taken a more cordial stance than it has in the past.

During Abe’s visit, the leaders will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the signing of a treaty between the two countries that was intended to set the tone for their relations following the Second World War.

On Wednesday, Chinese spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing that China believes the countries are “duty-bound to strengthen communication and cooperation and jointly safeguard international rules and order to promote world peace and development with each undertaking its respective efforts”.

Japanese media have reported Abe is hoping the visit will produce a soft power win in the form of some panda diplomacy, with zoos in Sendai and Kobe apparently angling for new additions.

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