In a surprising development, Japan's trade minister Toshihiro Nikai met with his Chinese counterpart Bo Xilai on high-level talks to mend the fences after a year of volatile relations between the two East Asian giants.
This should be welcomed by Japan’s and China’s neighbours in Southeast Asia who worried that increasing tensions between the two big powers in the region would hamper East Asian cooperation and stall the integration process.
Up till now, there have been mixed signals between the two with politicians from various ends of the Japanese political spectrum speaking with different intensities on a variety of issues. One of the most recent is Japanese allegations about Chinese pressure on a Japanese diplomat who committed suicide.
Nikai’s visit is probably the most highly-watched event after Japanese PM Koizumi borrowed a pen from Chinese PM Wen Jiabao to sign a document at the East Asian Summit in December last year. Nikai is the most senior minister to visit Chinaafter the Yasukuni controversy. Both Koreaand Chinasee the visits as provocations and signs of Japanimperialistic longing.
Before the talk, however, the Chinese were clear on their firm stance towards the shrine visits. "On this issue, Japan should not have any illusions, make any excuses or find any pretext to cover up their acts or even push the responsibility to the Chinese side," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. "All these efforts will be in vain."
Nikai was clear about this agenda too. "I hope to have candid exchanges of opinions as the Sino-Japan relations have many issues that have to be overcome, not just the Yasukuni problem," he told the international media.
Besides Nikai’s visit, the Chinese Communist Party leadership has also hosted a delegation from Japan’s ruling LDP this week with the Yasukuni shrine being a focus of conversation.
Whether these visits will lead to greater understanding and more political moves to “thaw” the freeze in Sino-China relations are still to be seen.
*Japan's Trade Minister Toshihiro Nikai (CNA, 22 Feb 2006)
*Japansends mixed signals over strains with China(CNA, Feb 19 2006)
* Wen praises visiting Japanese minister (Straits Times, 23 Feb 2006)