Trump’s tough line on China brings Tokyo, Beijing closer

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This year, Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Japan twice – for the G-20 summit in June and a second bilateral summit later

TOKYO: Even as Washington ratchets up the pressure on China, Tokyo and Beijing are in the middle of their own “Wuhan spirit”, as both countries with a bitter history strive to lower temperatures between them. This year, Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Japan twice – for the G-20 summit in June and a second bilateral summit later this year. This comes after Japanese PM Shinzo Abe made his first trip to China in late 2018, easing an eight-year chill.

After Abe’s visit to China, the two nations also agreed to work together in third countries. Like India and China, who are currently collaborating to train Afghan diplomats together, Japan and China agreed to build a connectivity project in Thailand. A planned rail project, sources said, may not go through, but a road project is on track, which will be a first.

The lowering of official tensions between the two sides is reminiscent to many Japanese officials of the Modi-Xi Wuhan summit in early 2018. Both officials and strategic analysts in Tokyo agree that US-China trade tensions and Washington’s tough line on China have been major contributing factors to China’s changed stance. A Japanese foreign ministry official said, “a few years ago there were no handshakes, no dialogue, only demarches.” China, he said, softened its line because of several reasons. One of them being “they realised PM Abe is here to stay, so it was better to deal with him.”

Noted China analyst Akio Takahara of Tokyo University told TOI, Xi’s outreach to Japan also showed he had consolidated power within the party leadership, after some push back before the 19th party congress. From 2013, US-China relations became strained, particularly owing to Beijing’s territorial claims on South China Sea. The US, he observed, was the first to stop referring to the US-China relationship as a “great power relationship”.

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