Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting on Monday. Japanese media outlets were unanimous in considering the meeting as a landmark event in Sino-Japanese relations. To ensure this meeting occurred, the Abe administration and the Chinese government reached a four point agreement prior to the APEC forum. Japan softened its stance, which is viewed as Japan having made a compromise. Tokyo has acknowledged "different positions" on the Diaoyu Islands, and Japanese leaders will find it hard to visit the Yasukuni Shrine.
Xi and Abe met with a short handshake. Xi received the Japanese leader with etiquette. Abe should be clear that in Eastern culture, etiquette and commitment are closely connected. As China gives out etiquette, it also requires commitment. Abe should remain committed to the four point agreement.
The rights and wrongs of the deadlocked bilateral relations between the two sides are clear. In order to break this deadlock, it is vital that the two countries hold on to commitment rather than pay lip service to what they have agreed.
Since Abe became Japanese prime minister for the first time in 2006, he has vowed more than once to break the ice between the two countries. But it is Abe himself who has contributed to the icy relationship. Has the freeze served as a reminder to some right-wing forces? Has it made Abe reevaluate his country's relationship with China?
Xi's meeting with Abe shows the stance of the Chinese government toward the tough and complicated Sino-Japanese relationship. If the Abe administration is as dedicated to improving relations as it has claimed, it should cherish China's stance.
Abe's rhetoric over the Yasukuni Shrine issue is convincing only to Japan's right-wing forces. Objections from China, South Korea and even the world are enough to make Japanese people realize that visiting the Yasukuni Shrine is controversial.
In the past few years, both China and South Korea have shown determination in resisting Yasukuni visits by Japanese leaders. We would like to believe that as Abe agreed to the four point agreement, this reflects a realistic approach.
Chinese society has scant trust in Abe. We hope he can realize the severity of this problem and show China and Asia concrete actions that prove he will shoulder responsibility toward the peace and stability of Northeast Asia.
As China grows stronger, improving ties with China is perhaps a more attractive choice for Japan. The stronger China becomes, the more necessary a friendly China-Japan relationship becomes. Some believe China will act on its own will as it becomes more powerful, but this is hardly true as China is experiencing a tough path toward revival.
The two should respect each other and not hurt each other's feelings. Abe was received with courtesy this time, and we can envision improved bilateral ties if he holds to the terms of the four point agreement.
Now it is up to the Japanese side to decide whether Sino-Japanese relations can be revived.