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Abe suggests Japan and China can resume leaders’ visits next year

Kyodo

Relations between Japan and China have improved to the point that they may resume leaders’ visits to each other’s countries next year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested in Manila on Tuesday.

“At next year’s milestone of the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-China peace and friendship treaty, we will propel Japan-China relations to a new level by deepening our exchanges, such as high-level visits,” Abe said at a news conference capping off his trip to Vietnam and the Philippines.

In Danang, Vietnam, on Saturday, Abe held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit before traveling to Manila where he met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Monday.

Xi said afterward, his meeting with Abe marked a “new start” for bilateral ties with Abe reiterating Tuesday that he feels the same.

“Japan and China must deepen our cooperation for the peace and prosperity of this region,” Abe said.

Abe said that China could even be a part of the “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy he pushed throughout his Southeast Asia trip, were it to support the idea.

The strategy’s focus on the maintenance of a maritime order based on the rule of law has been widely interpreted as a caution against China’s expansionary activities in the South and East China seas.

Abe hailed U.S. President Donald Trump for sharing the “free and open Indo-Pacific” message. Asked if he is concerned that Trump is focused on domestic issues rather than on maintaining the U.S. presence in Asia, Abe said Japan has “no doubts or concerns whatsoever about the U.S. commitment to security in this region.”

He said that at the East Asia Summit earlier Tuesday that Trump skipped in order to return to the United States and that all leaders present shared an “unprecedented” sense of danger about North Korea.

Pyongyang conducted its sixth nuclear test and launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile across Japan into the Pacific Ocean in September before going relatively quiet following the U.N. Security Council’s imposition of stricter sanctions, which restricted North Korean oil and gas imports for the first time.

Asked if he is concerned about North Korea lashing out again as the latest sanctions start to bite, Abe said he agreed with both Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in talks in Vietnam to “carefully watch the effects of the sanctions on North Korea in the coming harsh winter.”

Abe was scheduled to return home on Wednesday, having left for Vietnam on Nov. 9.