China and Japan on Friday pledged to forge closer ties as both countries stood together at an “historic turning point”, signing a broad range of agreements including a $30bn currency swap pact, amid rising trade tensions with Washington.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also agreed the two countries would work together to achieve denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula.
The pacts were reached on Abe’s three-day visit to Beijing as the two neighbours looked to carve out new areas of cooperation and seek ways to promote trust, which has been fragile at times since diplomatic relations resumed in 1972.
From competition to co-existence, Japan and China bilateral relations have entered a new phase
“From competition to co-existence, Japan and China bilateral relations have entered a new phase. Hand in hand with Premier Li, I would like to advance our ties forward,” Abe told reporters after the pair met on Friday morning.
Premier Li said 500 business deals worth $18bn had been signed between Chinese and Japanese companies during the visit, a reflection of the “bright prospects” for cooperation between the two countries.
He said the countries’ relations “have returned to a normal track,” and China wants to “stably develop ties in the long term”.
Both countries are neighbours and partners, and will not become a threat to each other, Abe said after meeting with President Xi Jinping on Friday in the first full-scale Sino-Japanese summit since 2011.
“With President Xi Jinping, I would like to carve out a new era for China and Japan,” Abe said.
Xi said bilateral ties had returned to the right track and China would ensure the positive momentum continues, according to state media.
The Chinese president will “seriously consider” Abe’s invitation to visit his country, a Japanese government spokesperson told reporters in Beijing.
“We need to nail down a date now,” Yasutoshi Nishimura, deputy chief cabinet secretary, said on Friday after the summit.
The historical rivals have been drawn closer together under pressure from the United States to slash trade deficits.
“Both countries would like to move their relationship back to focusing on economics and trade and to push aside some of the difficult political issues that [represent] a division between the states,” Stephen Nagy, from the Tokyo Christian University, said.
“[ I think] China would like to warm relations with traditional rivals such as Japan and concentrate the diplomatic efforts on United States.
“China is also worried about its own economic slowdown, and its economic slowdown is going to require more technological infusion from Japan, more foreign direct investment and more trade with Japan,” Nagy added.
China is Japan’s main trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching $300bn last year.
But relations between both soured in 2012 over a territorial dispute over several tiny Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea.
Upon returning to power in 2012, Abe took a firm position on Japan’s sovereignty over the island chain, aggravating tensions with Beijing.
But he has since softened his rhetoric as the issue of North Korean denuclearisation brought the two countries closer, with Abe calling on China to put pressure on North Korea.
According to Kyodo News, the two countries agreed to work together to make the East China Sea a “sea of peace, cooperation and friendship” and signed an agreement to work together on naval search and rescue operations.
The leaders will discuss a range of regional and global issues, including North Korea’s denuclearisation. Abe has invited President Xi Jinping to visit Japan next year.