Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi met with Japan's visiting National Security Advisor Shotaro Yachi on Friday and reached a four-point consensus on improving China-Japan relations. The announcement of the agreement is a surprise breakthrough before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Beijing to attend the APEC summit.
The official release of the agreement did not mention the controversial visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war criminals are among the dead enshrined, but states that "in the spirit of facing history squarely and looking forward to the future, [the two countries] have reached some agreement on overcoming political obstacles in the bilateral relations." The "overcoming political obstacles" here will become an important restraint on Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in the future.
The two sides have acknowledged in the agreement that "different positions" exist between them regarding the tensions over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, and the two agreed to establish a crisis management scheme to avoid unpredictable incidents.
This is the first time the two countries have officially mentioned the Diaoyu Islands, as Japan has not officially accepted that different positions exist over Diaoyu in the past. The agreement on setting up a crisis management scheme is also a new gesture from Japan.
China and Japan have been involved in worsening territorial disputes over the Diaoyu Island in the past two years. The tensions between the two countries grew worse after Abe paid a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine late last year. High-level contacts between the two sides have come to a halt. Japan is also isolated in East Asia.
The latest agreement signals a new turn in Sino-Japanese relations. However, Abe's right-leaning political stance is not likely to change overnight. Abe's sending Yachi to China and striving to meet Chinese leaders have shown that his reckless practices can no longer be sustained. He is likely to play a balancing game on relations with China and South Korea.
The four-point agreement is a result of China's persistent struggle with Japan without compromise in the past two years. Now that Japan has agreed to sit down with China to talk about crisis management, it is equal to admitting that the disputes over the Diaoyu Islands' sovereignty have become the new reality.
Of course, Chinese public should not be too conceited about Japan's change of gesture, believing that China must always be tough to "crush Japan." China believes that cooperation benefits both sides, and confrontation hurts both. Therefore, while sticking to its principles, China will also seek to choose policies in accordance with Japan's new moves.