China and Japan should safeguard free trade, Li urges


Relations between China and Japan have overcome "obstacles" and are moving "from competition to cooperation", the nations' leaders said on Friday as they signed new deals to prevent military clashes at sea and boost financial and economic collaboration.

Both sides have agreed to cooperate on denuclearising North Korea, to continue dialogue about the disputed region and maritime security, and signed a $30 billion currency (£23 billion) swap.

Relations between Asia's two biggest economies have improved in recent years after they sunk to new lows in 2012 when Tokyo "nationalised" disputed islands claimed by Beijing.

The Trump administration's unconventional foreign policy toward trade and military alliances has left Tokyo feeling unsure of the United States support which has underlined its global relations since the end of World War II.

Experts here also pointed out that the improvement of ties between the two countries is particularly significant under the current circumstances with rising trade protectionism in the world.

These steps, while paving the way for joint development projects, appear to fall short of a full embrace of Chinese President Xi Jinping's signature Belt and Road Initiative.

Li said the two sides should work on regional free trade deals such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which does not include the US, and on a free trade area between China, South Korea and Japan. China is Japan's largest trade partner.

Abe has repeatedly said that a strong India is in Japan's interest and has extended cooperation for infrastructure and flagship programmes such as Digital India, Skill India and Make in India.

After Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang commemorated the 40th anniversary of a peace and friendship treaty on Thursday, the two held formal talks on Friday and oversaw the signing of cooperation agreements between the two governments. Abe's official visit is described as the first of its kind since late 2011, although he has made several trips to China to attend worldwide gatherings in the meantime.

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Beijing and Tokyo have historically had very different relationships with Washington - one borderline adversarial, the other a close alliance - but both countries now face similar complaints from the Trump administration.

The relationship has rapidly warmed up as Trump has slapped massive tariffs on China while also targeting Japanese exports in his effort to cut United States trade deficits, despite touting his personal bonds with Abe and Xi.

In other words, projects need to be open, transparent, make good business sense and not burden third countries with unreasonable amounts of debt.

The unlikely warming of relations between the two countries began in September 2017 when Abe became the first Japanese leader in 15 years to attend the Chinese embassy's National Day celebrations.

At the Beijing summit though, Mr Abe said Tokyo was "determined" to normalise diplomatic relations with Pyongyang if there was progress on denuclearisation and the release of Japanese citizens.

Some other users urged caution during Mr Abe's visit, accusing an "ambitious" Japan of being a two-faced neighbour. "We agreed to promote free trade", said Li of Japan-China ties.

He added that relations were at a "historic turning point".

"We will certainly raise our concerns over terrorism and other global trans-border crimes", Gokhale said. Abe made the remark while keeping in mind Chinese vessels' intrusions into Japan's territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands.