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Abe and Xi, acknowledging political successes at home, agree to push for better bilateral ties

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed Saturday to promote efforts toward improving bilateral ties, with each riding high after further consolidating power at home.

Xi said he wants to advance “positive developments” but added that more needs to be done in the process of improving ties between the two countries, in the meeting with Abe on the sidelines of a regional economic summit in the Vietnamese coastal city of Danang.

Abe, in response at the outset of the meeting, agreed with Xi that he wants to “strongly promote” ongoing efforts and also expressed a desire to deepen cooperation with China in dealing with North Korea’s flurry of provocative weapons tests.

The meeting comes mere weeks after the two leaders further consolidated their grips on power through key political events at home.

Abe congratulated Xi on being re-elected to lead China’s Communist Party following its twice-a-decade congress late last month.

Abe suggested that the strengthened standings each now enjoys could provide more favorable and flexible conditions for Asia’s two biggest economies to quicken the tempo of reconciliation.

It was their sixth meeting since they took power in 2012. After attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, in addition to discussing bilateral issues, Abe voiced hope for China to play a bigger role in compelling North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

China has resisted applying greater pressure on North Korea, fearing the risk of its northeastern areas being thrown into chaos if Pyongyang comes closer to the brink of collapse.

At the same time, China has grown frustrated by North Korea’s defiant quest for nuclear weapons, which has prompted U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to escalate America’s military engagement in the region.

Abe and Xi have never had lengthy discussions in the format of an official visit. All of their meetings, including the latest one, have lasted no more than about 40 minutes and took place on the sidelines of multilateral gatherings.

Abe and Xi last held bilateral talks in July, when they traveled to the German city of Hamburg for the Group of 20 summit.

The lack of in-depth communications between Abe and Xi is a sign of the continued fragility of Sino-Japanese relations.

But compared with four or five years ago when they were at their lowest ebb since the 1972 normalization of diplomatic ties, due to territorial and wartime issues, political and business exchanges between the two countries have picked up pace.

Now that Xi has amassed even greater power following the Communist Party’s politically sensitive congress, Japanese officials believe Beijing will have greater leeway in increasing high-level contacts with Tokyo.

Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the two countries’ treaty of friendship and peace, and Abe in late September expressed an eagerness to visit China again and invited Xi to come to Japan in the near future.

Abe has also said he is looking forward to meeting with Premier Li Keqiang by the end of the year at a trilateral summit in Japan involving South Korea.

Since Xi became head of the ruling party in November 2012, neither he nor Li has visited Japan. Just a few days before Xi began his second five-year term with a team stacked with his trusted allies and followers, Abe bolstered his own power base, with his ruling coalition winning a two-thirds majority in the Oct. 22 snap election for the more powerful Lower House.

The victory puts Abe on track to be the longest serving prime minister in postwar Japan.

Differing views between the countries over territorial disputes in the East and South China seas persist, and there is little indication they will change their positions.

During the party congress, Xi clarified that China will advance its goal of building a strong military and take an assertive policy, perceived by many other countries as high-handed, toward its neighbors on territorial claims.

But despite the disagreements, or by putting them aside, an increasing number of policymakers and scholars from Japan and China think that the renewed political stability in each country will create a better environment to promote practical cooperation in the months to come.