Japan’s Shinzo Abe inspected troops off Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Friday during a rare visit to China as ties further improve and the two countries face trade challenges from US President Donald Trump.
Premier Li Keqiang greeted Abe as Japan’s flag flew outside the opulent Great Hall of the People across from Tiananmen Square, and they reviewed an honour guard before going inside for talks.
Relations between Asia’s two biggest economies have improved in recent years after they sunk to new lows in 2012 when Tokyo “nationalised” disputed islands claimed by Beijing.
The relationship has rapidly warmed up as Trump has slapped massive tariffs on China while also targeting Japanese exports in his effort to cut US trade deficits, despite touting his personal bonds with Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Abe and Xi are expected to discuss how to boost economic cooperation between the world’s second and third largest economies when they meet later Friday.
Abe brought along delegates from 500 Japanese companies, which are eager for increased access to China’s massive market, while Beijing is interested in Japanese technology and corporate know-how.
“Though the US is quite an influential factor in China-Japan ties, the effect is limited,” China’s nationalistic Global Times said in an editorial.
“If Beijing and Tokyo intend to plan their future bilateral relationship based on Washington’s attitude, they will only get lost,” the state-run daily said.
Abe and Xi are likely to focus on a range of potential deals, including joint investments in infrastructure in regional nations including Indonesia and the Philippines.
The last official visit to Beijing by a Japanese prime minister was in 2011.
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. Li visited Tokyo in May.
Abe’s three-day trip, which began Thursday, sets up the possibility that Xi will visit Japan next year.
Abe and Li already met on Thursday during a reception to celebrate the signing of the treaty that put Japanese and Chinese relations back on track after World War II.
At the event, Li called for the countries to “jointly promote regional peace” and “safeguard multilateralism and free trade,” according to state broadcaster CCTV.
For his part, Abe said: “Japan and China play an irreplaceable role in the economic development of Asia and even the world” and both sides should work together to “promote world peace and prosperity”, according to CCTV.
Before heading to Beijing, Abe said he would also discuss North Korea and territorial frictions—calling to make “the East China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.”
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 World War II.
But ahead of the trip, Beijing has taken a more cordial stance than it has in the past.
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.