by Daniel Waldroop, ’17
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Xi Jinping of China met in person for the first time on November 10th, undercutting fears of rising tensions between the two richest Asian nations.
As hosts of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the Chinese administration felt it could not snub the Japanese Prime Minister, who had previously extended a public invitation to Mr. Xi for a meeting.
But China’s reluctance to meet with the Japanese administration was clear – the handshake between the two leaders was cordial but awkward, with both parties preferring to glance at the ground than at the other.
However, Sino-Japanese relations may have been improved behind the scenes in relation to the dispute between China and Japan over two uninhabited islands (the Diaoyu in Mandarin and the Senkaku in Japanese) had been steadily escalating over the last several years, at times almost sparking conflict.
Before the meeting at APEC, Chinese and Japanese officials released an accord on the islands, each side acknowledging the existence of “competing claims” to the islands and setting the stage for a diplomatic solution to the dispute.
For Washington, this was welcome news. As tensions on this matter temporarily subside, President Obama is spared, at least for the moment, the possibility of being entangled in the conflict.
Lowered tensions between Japan and China also eases Mr. Obama’s planned “pivot to Asia” by freeing the United States from its role as mediator. Specifically, it aids the creation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal between 12 Pacific Rim countries (excluding China). With this thaw in Japanese-Chinese relations and support from the newly-Republican Senate, it’s possible the trade deal could be brought to fruition this coming year.