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Abe-Li message exchange signals warmer ties on 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations

Kyodo, AP

Amid increasing signs of a rapprochement between Japan and China, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang exchanged congratulatory messages Friday to mark the 45th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

They were the first such messages sent by Beijing and Tokyo in a decade.

The two leaders expressed hope for the stable development of relations despite differences over wartime history and a territorial dispute concerning the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

“We would like to build a stable friendship by promoting cooperation and interaction in various fields,” Abe said in his message, adding that he is looking forward to meeting Li in Japan later this year when he attends the trilateral summit for Japan, China and South Korea.

Li, for his part, said “current circumstances present new opportunities as well as challenges,” and that Tokyo can meet Beijing “halfway to jointly safeguard the political foundation of their relations and properly manage and control their contradictions . . . in the spirit of learning from history while looking to the future, to push for (their) stable improvement and development,” according to China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Japan and China last exchanged such messages in 2007 to mark the 35th anniversary. They did not do so in 2012, on the 40th anniversary, because of the Senkakus dispute.

The uninhabited islets are administered by Japan but also claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu, and Taiwan, which claims them as Tiaoyutai.

On Thursday Abe, displaying his resolve to improve bilateral relations, attended a ceremony marking the anniversary of diplomatic ties between Japan and China ahead of China’s National Day celebrations on Sunday.

His participation in the event, held at a Tokyo hotel, makes him the first Japanese leader to take part in the annual ceremony in more than a decade. Abe said he hopes Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Japan at the earliest possible date.

Abe said stronger ties between Japan and China are indispensable for peace and stability in the region, “given the current situation” — a reference to the escalating military threat from North Korea, according to NHK.

Abe’s attendance on a busy day that saw him dissolve the Lower House for a snap election was seen as a gesture of his willingness to improve ties.

Beijing welcomed the participation of Abe, who was accompanied by Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties is “of great significance” and expressed hope that Japan sees it as an opportunity to draw lessons from history and look to the future and improve ties “in a correct direction.”