China’s Xi, Japan’s Abe hold landmark meeting after awkward handshake

Tuesday, 11 November 2014 00:09 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: After an awkward handshake, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held formal talks on Monday for the first time since the two leaders took office, a breakthrough in efforts to improve ties between the Asian rivals. Television footage showed Abe waiting for Xi to greet him at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, a departure from usual protocol in which the Chinese leader is on hand waiting for a guest. Xi was unsmiling and stiff as the two shook hands and he did not speak to Abe when they first met. China and Japan, the world’s second- and third-largest economies, have rowed bitterly in the past two years over disputed islands, regional rivalry and the legacy of Japan’s wartime occupation of China. The meeting, which capped months of backdoor talks and an agreement last week between diplomats that signalled willingness to put the territorial feud on the back burner, opens the door to lower-level dialogue including stalled high-level economic discussions. “Leaders (from the two nations) met and exchanged views frankly,” said Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, in Tokyo. “I think there was big progress in freshly improving the economic and various relationships between Japan and China.” Abe and Xi also agreed to start work on maritime crisis management, to prevent clashes at a time when patrol ships and fighter jets from both countries shadow each other regularly near the disputed islands in the East China Sea that are controlled by Japan but also claimed by Beijing. Experts have said both sides had agreed the deep freeze in diplomatic ties was harming vital economic relations as well as threatening an unintended military clash that could drag in the United States. Japan’s direct investment into China fell more than 40% during the first nine months of the year. “This is a first step towards improving bilateral relations, returning to the core of a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests,” Abe told reporters after what a Japanese official said was a “gentlemenlike” meeting on the sidelines of a gathering of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders.