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Editorial : Thaw in Sino‑Japanese relations

【明報專訊】DURING Chinese president Xi Jinping's visit to Japan last week, it was, without doubt, his meeting with US president Donald Trump that received most of the attention. But last week also marked the first time Xi had set foot in Japan since he assumed the post of President of China in 2013. It was also the first Japan visit made by a Chinese leader in nine years. On the night when he arrived in Japan, he met with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and agreed to make a state visit as invited next year, signalling that relations between Japan and China are finally back on track having been at a low for years.

Relations between China and Japan had been strained for six years since the Japanese government "nationalised" the Diaoyu Islands (called the Senkaku Islands by Japan) in 2012. They began to improve only after the conclusion of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017 and the beginning of Xi's second term of presidency. Abe has been relatively active in repairing Japan's relations with China, as he has sought to meet with Xi on ten occasions. China, meanwhile, has been waiting for Japan to take concrete action to demonstrate its sincerity. The turning point came last year, when Japan changed its stance and expressed willingness to join the Belt and Road initiative. It was not until that happened that Sino‑Japanese relations made a real breakthrough.

The improvement in the relations between China and Japan is attributable to domestic factors in both countries as well as international ones. Abe, who is on the road to becoming the longest‑reigning Japanese prime minister after the Second World War, is faced with a bottleneck in his attempt to tackle the economic difficulties, at the same time trying to achieve the aim of amending the constitution. He desperately hopes to win popular approval with a diplomatic breakthrough. Furthermore, on the country's various diplomatic fronts, Japan is facing a lack of momentum in its relations with Russia, a lack of means to improve its relations with North Korea, the constant deterioration in its relations with South Korea, and difficulties in achieving a breakthrough in its relations with the US, Japan's only military ally. There is room for a breakthrough only in its relations with China, its biggest trading partner. This is the area on which Abe has worked particularly hard. The breakthroughs in Sino‑Japanese relations can help him accumulate diplomatic capital which he can use on the successful hosting of the G20 meetings, the victory in the upper‑house elections in July and the amendment of the constitution.

To Xi Jinping, he has seen his power further consolidated after the 19th National Congress, and is now facing few restrictions on his endeavour to achieve diplomatic breakthroughs. At a time of a major setback for the relations between China and the US and difficulties in making a breakthrough in its relations with Europe, the improvement of relations with Japan has become a doable option. Japan's diplomatic policies towards China seldom have an ideological tinge to them. After all, it was the first of the G7 nations to lift sanctions against China after the June Fourth Incident in 1989. Japan has kept a markedly lower profile than that of Europe and the US over the opposition to the amendment of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance in Hong Kong.

It is the Trump administration that has been the biggest international factor in the reconciliation between China and Japan. When meeting with Abe, Xi said that "The world today is facing a big change unseen over the past century. There is a profound reshaping of the international governance system, and the global order is undergoing an accelerating change. China and Japan are having more and more mutual interests and concerns." This is an accurate description of this international factor at play.

明報社評2019.07.01:中日關係回正軌 基礎未固待強化

國家主席習近平上周的日本之行,與美國總統特朗普的會晤無疑是主要焦點,但這也是習近平2013年就任國家主席以來首度踏足日本,更是中國國家元首9年來首次日本之行,抵日當晚,他就與日本首相安倍晉三會晤並接受明年國事訪日的邀請,標誌着中日關係在經過多年低迷徘徊後,終告重返正軌。

自從2012年日本政府將釣魚島「國有化」後,中日關係冰封長達6年多,直到2017年中共十九大結束、習近平開始第二個任期,雙方關係才漸漸回暖。在此期間,安倍對修復對華關係較為主動,其間設法與習近平在各種場合會晤10次,而中方卻一直在等待日方的實質舉措來展現誠意,轉捩點是去年日方改變態度,表示願意參與「一帶一路」倡議,之後中日關係的改善才出現實質突破。

中日關係改善的因素既有各自的國內因素,又有國際因素。對安倍來說,作為有望成為日本戰後在位時間最長的首相,在解決經濟困難遇到樽頸、還要實現修憲目標時,迫切希望能夠藉外交突破來贏得民眾的支持。而在日本現行的幾組對外關係中,日俄關係推動乏力,日朝關係改善無門,日韓關係日形惡化,與美國這個唯一的同盟國關係亦難有大突破,只有與最大的貿易伙伴中國的關係,具備突破空間,因此成為安倍最着力之處,而中日關係的突破,可為他成功主辦二十國集團(G20)峰會、在7月贏得參議院選舉,乃至修憲等政治議程,積累外交業績。

對習近平來說,十九大後權力更形鞏固,外交突破已少掣肘。而在中美關係遇到重大阻滯、對歐關係又突破不易的情况下,改善對日關係也成為可取的方向。日本對華外交一向較少意識形態色彩,八九六四後就是七大工業國(G7)中率先打破對華制裁的國家,今次香港反對修訂《逃犯條例》中,日本也遠較歐美國家低調。

促成中日和解的最大國際因素就是美國的特朗普政府,習近平見安倍時所指,「當今世界正經歷百年未有之大變局,全球治理體系深刻重塑,國際格局加速演變。中日兩國擁有愈來愈多共同利益和共同關切」,就是對這種國際因素的真實寫照。

■Glossary

thaw (in sth) : a situation in which the relations between two enemy countries become more friendly

back on track : going in the right direction again after a mistake, failure, etc.

tinge : a small amount of a colour, feeling or quality

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