MANILA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met Monday in Manila, saying they share a desire to further improve bilateral relations and which they noted are getting better.
Their meeting came on the heels of talks between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Vietnam on Saturday, in which they agreed to make a “new start” on bilateral ties that have often been strained by territorial and historical grievances.
“While of course we cannot deny the existence of some sensitive factors … I think both sides must work hard together to make the momentum of improvement in China-Japan relations into something solid,” Li told Abe at the outset of the meeting, which as open to the press.
“I want us to strongly move forward the development of a strategic, mutually beneficial relationship,” Abe replied, saying he too has noticed a trend of improvement.
Abe’s unprecedented meetings with both Xi and Li in such a short period of time is a sign of improving relations.
In their third sit-down meeting since Li became premier in 2013, he and Abe are expected to build on the progress made at the Vietnam meeting, possibly with an extra focus on economic ties given Li’s role in China.
They may find little common ground on regional issues, however, with Japan urging all countries to maximize pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs while China is advocating dialogue with the North.
Earlier in the day, Abe, U.S. President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed in Manila to maximize pressure on North Korea in light of its nuclear and ballistic missile development program.
According to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, the leaders “affirmed their ongoing close coordination based on their shared understanding of the importance of using every possible means to raise pressure on North Korea to the maximum possible extent, including by fully enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
More broadly, the leaders confirmed in their first sit-down trilateral meeting since November 2014 “the unshakable bonds of the Japan-U.S.-Australia (relationship), in order to lead (efforts) to ensure regional peace and prosperity,” the Foreign Ministry said.
At the outset of the meeting on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, Abe called the North Korea issue “the immediate challenge facing our three countries, which share fundamental values and strategic interests.”
Turnbull said the three countries share “the same values and the same focus in ensuring that the North Korean regime comes to its senses and stops its reckless provocation of threats of conflict in our region.”
Trump hailed the progress of dialogue between the three, adding that his administration will release a “major statement” on the progress made with other countries regarding North Korea, trade and other issues on Wednesday following his return to the United States.
On Sunday in Manila, diplomats from Japan, Australia, India and the United States discussed a “free and open” Indo-Pacific order and agreed to work together based on their shared values.
Abe has previously advocated a “security diamond” formed by the four countries to safeguard the Indo-Pacific region, taking indirect aim at China’s rising influence.
Following the three-way meeting, Abe and Turnbull held bilateral talks in which the Japanese prime minister said he wants to work closely with his Australian counterpart in strengthening a free and open order in the Indo-Pacific region and making it work in the interests of the entire world, according to the ministry.
The two agreed to work together on regional matters, including maritime security.
Abe and Turnbull also agreed to coordinate with each other to swiftly bring the recently agreed version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal into force.
Their meeting followed Saturday’s agreement between the 11 TPP signatories to bring the pact into force as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership after the United States withdrew from the original deal in January.
The accord will come into force 60 days after at least six of the signatories complete their domestic procedures.