BEIJING – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Beijing on Thursday, the first official visit to China by a Japanese leader in nearly seven years, with hopes of lifting often tense bilateral relations to a “new phase.”
“Japan and China share a big responsibility for regional and world prosperity. Based on that recognition, I would like to hold candid talks with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang over a variety of global issues,” Abe said in Tokyo before departing on the three-day visit through Saturday.
Abe also told reporters he will exchange views on bilateral efforts to promote a free and fair trading system and make the East China Sea a “sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.”
Following his arrival in Beijing, Abe is slated to attend a reception to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a peace and friendship treaty between the two countries.
Japanese flags have been raised at Tiananmen Square in the heart of China’s capital, a symbolic gesture boosting expectations of an improvement in relations.
On Friday, Abe is scheduled to hold separate meetings with Li and Chinese President Xi Jinping. He will also attend a banquet hosted by Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan.
Abe’s three-day visit comes at a time when relations between Asia’s two biggest economies, frequently frayed over historical and territorial issues, have improved as tensions between Beijing and Washington have escalated over trade.
It is the first visit by a Japanese prime minister primarily to hold official talks with Chinese leaders, rather than attend international meetings, since December 2011.
As part of efforts to promote high-level reciprocal visits, Abe plans to invite Xi to visit Japan in June next year, when the Group of 20 summit will be held in Osaka.
When Abe meets Li, they are likely to agree on the need to promote the interconnectivity of the region’s economies amid China’s deepening trade war with the United States.
The two are expected to agree on an expanded currency swap line worth around ¥3 trillion to prepare for a possible financial crisis, Japanese sources said.
Abe also plans to tell Li that Japan will discontinue its 40-year official development assistance to China and propose to set up a new dialogue for Tokyo and Beijing to talk about cooperation to help build infrastructure in developing countries, according to the sources.
On the security front, Abe and the Chinese leaders are most likely to confirm their cooperation to work toward the denuclearization of North Korea.
The two countries will also sign an agreement to facilitate cooperation over search and rescue operations in the event of accidents in waters off the two countries, the sources said.
For years, Tokyo and Beijing have been mired in a territorial row over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The group of uninhabited islets, which are called Diaoyu in China, are controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.
The dispute intensified after the government of former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Abe’s predecessor, decided to bring some of the islets under state control in September 2012.