China has said it hopes Japan can create a “favourable atmosphere” for an expected meeting between the two countries’ leaders, a day after the two sides signaled willingness to put a bitter row over disputed islands on the back burner.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the remarks on Saturday ahead of a meeting by leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group in Beijing, where Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister are also expected to hold their first one-on-one talks.
“We hope that the Japanese side takes this seriously, implement it faithfully and honour its commitment so as to create a necessary and favourable atmosphere for a meeting between the two leaders,” he added.
China and Japan agreed on Friday to work on improving ties, paving the way for their leaders to meet on the sidelines of the summit.
A one-on-one meeting would be a symbolic breakthrough in ties between Asia’s two largest economies, which have turned frigid in the past two years over the territorial row, regional rivalry and Japan’s wartime legacy in China.
Both countries claim ownership of a tiny group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China.
The two countries acknowledged on Friday they held different views on the territorial dispute.
Beijing has also been particularly angered by visits by Japanese government ministers, including Abe, to the Yasukuni Shrine, which China sees as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism and occupation.
Yasukuni honours millions of war dead, including wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal.
The US State Department said it would “welcome” any measures by the two countries that “outlines agreed steps to improve relations”.
Tokyo has long been pressing for a meeting but Beijing has resisted.
As a condition for the meet, China, which has painted Abe as a dangerous historical revisionist, had reportedly been demanding that he swear not to repeat a visit to Yasukuni.
It has also been calling for Japan to acknowledge the existence of a dispute over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands, which it calls the Diaoyus, where paramilitary vessels from both sides have sparred over recent years.
Japan has until now rebuffed the calls, but similarly worded statements from both countries issued on Friday suggested there had been some accommodation on the thorny island issue.
China has repeatedly called on Japan to “face history squarely”, while Tokyo frequently urges Beijing to look to the future.
Speaking on Friday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga insisted Tokyo would not compromise on points of principle – the disputed islands and a pledge to stay away from the shrine – but said there needed to be dialogue.
“Our country’s stance has not changed,” he said, according to Jiji Press news agency.
“Because there are various issues between the countries, it is important for their leaders to talk frankly.”
The conciliatory statements came as Abe prepares to head to Beijing for the APEC Summit.