National / Politics

Abe-Obama talks lined up for November's APEC confab in Beijing


Japan and the United States are arranging for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama to meet for talks on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Beijing in November, government sources said Saturday in Tokyo.

Abe and Obama are expected to express their willingness to work with Chinese President Xi Jinping to reduce regional tensions triggered by territorial disputes in the South and East China seas, the sources said.

Abe is also calling on Xi to hold summit talks on the fringes of the APEC summit from Nov. 10 to 11. The two have yet to hold one-on-one talks since they took office, Abe in December 2012 and Xi the following March.

Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have plunged to the lowest level in decades due to a territorial dispute over the Japan-controlled and China-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and differing perceptions of wartime history.

At their meeting in Beijing, Abe and Obama are likely to avoid making comments that could be interpreted as warnings about China, the APEC meeting host. In particular, the two leaders may avoid mentioning China’s growing military influence and assertiveness in Asian waters, which have caused friction with Japan and Southeast Asian countries, especially Vietnam and the Philippines.

Abe is expected to tell Obama that Japan will make efforts to improve relations with China. If talks with Xi materialize in Beijing before Abe meets with Obama, the prime minister is likely to explain to the U.S. president what was discussed with Xi, in an effort to ease Washington’s concern over the deterioration in Japan-China ties.

Abe and Obama are also expected to discuss the Ukraine crisis, with Abe seeking U.S. understanding of Tokyo’s reluctance to go as far as Washington in applying pressure on Russia through sanctions.

Abe is also likely to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the APEC meeting in an effort to continue bilateral talks aimed at resolving a long-standing dispute over the sovereignty of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

Abe and Putin have forged a personal relationship through five meetings since the prime minister returned to power in late 2012, but their relationship has been affected by the sanctions Japan did impose on Russia for annexing Crimea and supporting separatist militias in eastern Ukraine.

A senior Foreign Ministry official in Tokyo indicated Abe’s talks with Obama and Putin in Beijing could also put pressure on Xi to meet with Abe.

Among other issues, Abe is also expected to explain to Obama recent developments between Japan and North Korea over Pyongyang’s reinvestigation into the fates of Japanese nationals abducted by the North decades ago. On the economic front, Abe plans to urge Obama to work toward an early conclusion of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade initiative.

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