Tokyo: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan faces a tough balancing act as he heads to Beijing for a Thursday summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Around 500 Japanese business leaders will accompany Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he visits Beijing this week, amid an ongoing China-U.S. trade feud that is hurting industries on both sides.
Japan’s often fraught relations with China are improving — as highlighted by Abe’s 25-27 Oct visit, the first stand-alone journey to the country by a Japanese leader in nearly seven years.
But it comes as long-time ally and security guarantor the United States wages a tariff war on China, Japan’s biggest trading partner, while occasionally tossing ominous threats Tokyo’s way as well.
The visit is the first by a Japanese premier since 2011 and is part of a years-long process of repairing ties in the wake of a disastrous falling-out in 2012 when Tokyo “nationalised” disputed islands claimed by Beijing.
But Abe, and no doubt many of the business people, will also be looking over their shoulders at U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump, who has used the threat of tariffs on Japanese vehicles to cajole a reluctant Tokyo into free trade talks, last week tweeted praise for Japan ahead of Abe’s trip, including a graphic lauding its investments in the United States.
Prime Minister @AbeShinzo of Japan has been working with me to help balance out the one-sided Trade with Japan. These are some of the investments they are making in our Country – just the beginning! pic.twitter.com/ib2yB3Akkt
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2018
Since an awkward 2014 encounter between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a summit, there have been ministerial visits by both sides and a softening of rhetoric.
But Abe’s trip will be a test of how far the two countries have come, and the need for progress is all the more urgent as US President Donald Trump levies tariffs and rattles sabres on trade with both China and Japan.
The two leaders are likely to focus on a range of potential deals, including joint investments in infrastructure in regional nations including Indonesia and the Philippines.
Abe has signalled some interest in China’s massive “Belt and Road Initiative”, which funds major infrastructure work, but experts said a concrete deal on Japanese participation was unlikely for now.
Just days before Abe’s trip, Tokyo lodged an official complaint after Chinese ships cruised around the disputed islands that Tokyo calls the Senkaku and Beijing labels the Diaoyu islands.
And in September, Japan carried out its first submarine drills in the disputed South China Sea. Japan does not border the South China Sea but has expressed concern about Chinese military activity there.