Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said they would pursue mutually-beneficial relations in their first face-to-face talks in a year, putting the emphasis on shared economic interests amid a series of diplomatic disputes.
The leaders of Asia’s two largest economies discussed thorny issues such as China’s ban on Japanese seafood and the high-profile case of a Japanese businessman detained in China during hour-long talks at an upmarket hotel in San Francisco on Thursday evening.
But they also pledged to hold high-level dialogues on economic issues and welcomed the launch of a new framework to discuss export controls as they met on the sidelines of the APEC regional summit.
The countries should “focus on common interests” and reaffirm their “strategic relationship of mutual benefit and give it new meaning,” Xi told Kishida as they sat across from one another at a long table flanked by their delegations.
In a joint statement in 2008, Japan and China agreed to pursue a “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests” designed to ensure frequent leadership exchanges on issues such as security and economic cooperation.
But the phrasing has been used less frequently in recent years as the historic rivals have clashed over a series of issues such as territorial claims, trade tensions and Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing claims as its own.
Most recently, ties have been tested by China’s ban on Japanese seafood following Tokyo’s decision to begin releasing treated water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea earlier this year.
In comments to the media after the talks, Kishida said he had strongly urged Xi to drop the ban and also sought the swift release of the detained business executive, a saga which has dealt an outsized blow to their close trade ties.
Xi said Japan should take its concerns over the Fukushima water discharge seriously and the two sides agreed to try and resolve the issue through consultations, according to readouts of the talks. The Chinese readout did not mention the case of the Astellas Pharma (4503.T) executive formally arrested last month on suspicion of espionage.
The Kishida-Xi meeting followed a highly-anticipated summit between US President Joe Biden and Xi, in which the two superpowers agreed to open a presidential hotline and resume military-to-military communications, among other matters.
Kishida also met Biden at the summit where they discussed issues, including ‘common challenges’ that they share with China.
China’s push to reaffirm relations with Japan could be partly driven by Tokyo’s close ties with its arch-rival Washington, said Rumi Aoyama, an expert on Japan-China relations.
“I think there is a desire to drive a wedge between Japan and the United States by establishing a so-called strategic relationship with Japan amid the US-China confrontation,” said Aoyama, director of Waseda Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies.
On the sidelines of the APEC summit, Kishida also met South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, which was their seventh meeting this year. The pair promised to push for deeper cooperation and discussed shared concerns like North Korea’s missile tests.
Yoon, Kishida and Biden also held a brief trilateral meeting on Thursday.
Leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum are in San Francisco for the summit from November 15 to 17.