National / Politics

Ahead of Abe's visit to Beijing a look at Japan-China ties through the years

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to China from Thursday, which will include the first formal summit between the two countries’ leaders since 2011 and comes as they mark the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, is expected to cap a warming trend in once chilly Sino-Japanese ties.

The following is a look back at key dates and events that have helped shape the two Asian giants’ relationship over the last 40-plus years.

Tanaka visits China

Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka begins an unprecedented visit to China on Sept. 25, 1972, and four days later, after meetings with Chinese leader Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, the two governments issue the Japan-China Joint Communique, restoring diplomatic relations. The treaty ends the “abnormal relations between Japan and China,” recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the “sole government of China” and renounces any claims for World War II reparations.

Peace and friendship treaty

China and Japan ink the Treaty of Peace and Friendship on Aug. 12, 1978. On Oct. 22, Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping visits Japan. A day later, Beijing and Tokyo exchange documents for the ratification of the pact. The treaty shelves the dispute over the Senkaku Islands for future resolution — an issue that will return to the spotlight some 32 years later.

Tiananmen Square massacre

A series of student-led pro-democracy protests in China in the spring of 1989 culminate on the night of June 3 and 4 with a government crackdown on demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Estimates of the death toll range from several hundred to some 10,000. The Japanese government calls Beijing’s response “intolerable” and freezes loans to China. But Japan was also one of the first countries to restore high-level relations with China in the following months.

Turbulence under Koizumi

Chinese President Hu Jintao holds talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in April 2005 at the conclusion of the Asia-Africa leaders’ summit in Jakarta, a day after Koizumi apologized for Japan’s wartime atrocities in Asia.

The two leaders agreed to develop bilateral ties based on past agreements and treaties. But after Koizumi’s repeated visits to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 Class-A war criminals are enshrined, relations sour between the two countries, with high-level visits suspended and exchanges in various arenas severely affected.

DPJ takes power

Sino-Japanese relations improve under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his Asia-centric foreign policy approach after his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) wins the August 2009 general election in a landslide. Hatoyama, however, is forced to resign less than a year later.

Senkakus dispute returns

A Chinese trawler collides with two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats near the Senkakus, known as the Diaoyu in China, on Sept. 7, 2010, and results in Tokyo arresting the Chinese skipper.

The incident prompts a major diplomatic row between the two countries, that sees an increase in patrols in the disputed area by Chinese government ships and planes, as well as civilian fishing vessels.

Two years later, in what Tokyo calls an effort to diffuse territorial tensions, the government purchases three of the five main islets from a private Japanese owner, effectively nationalizing the uninhabited chain.

Days later, the biggest anti-Japanese protests since the two normalized diplomatic ties in 1972 erupt in cities across China, including at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, which is besieged by thousands of protesters throwing rocks, eggs and bottles. In November 2013, China announces the formation of an air defense identification zone over much of the East China Sea, including the Senkakus.

Abe visits Yasukuni Shrine

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, elected exactly a year earlier, makes his first and so far only visit to Yasukuni as leader on Dec. 26, 2013, in the first visit to the shrine by a sitting prime minister since Koizumi in August 2006. China labels the visit “absolutely unacceptable” and Sino-Japanese ties remain in a deep freeze.

Abe, Xi share a shake

After an awkward handshake, Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping hold formal talks in November 2014 for the first time since the two leaders took office, a breakthrough in efforts to improve ties between the Asian rivals. The meeting, on the sidelines of a gathering of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders, comes after months of backdoor talks as the two countries signal a willingness to put the Senkaku feud on the back burner and open the door to dialogue, including stalled high-level economic discussions. The pair will meet several more times on the sidelines of conferences and summits.

Back on a ‘normal track’

After expressing confidence over an improving relationship with China, Abe says in September that Sino-Japanese ties have returned to a “normal track.” A month later, his office formally announces a visit by Abe to Beijing, where he will meet Xi and hold the first full-scale China-Japan summit since 2011.