Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to China — the first official visit there by a top Japanese leader in seven years — is yet another indication of improvement in the bilateral relationship that at one point in recent years had plummeted to its chilliest point since the two countries normalized diplomatic ties in the 1970s. As he departed for Beijing on Thursday for his three-day visit, Abe said he hoped to elevate Japan-China relations to “a new stage” through his talks with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on Friday. The two governments are expected to agree on economic cooperation such as joint infrastructure development in third countries as well as confidence-building measures, including exchanges between their defense officials.

The rapprochement between Tokyo and Beijing, however, is deemed to be a product of the convergence of interests of China, which hopes to befriend Japan as it faces an increasingly bitter confrontation with the United States under the leadership of President Donald Trump, and Japan, which aims to stabilize its relationship with China — which was severely strained by the Senkaku Islands dispute — by promoting cooperation with the economic powerhouse that possesses growing international clout. But the widening rift between China and the U.S., Japan’s primary ally, may require Tokyo to maintain a certain distance with Beijing.

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