Japan's Abe, China's Xi meet raising hopes of a thaw in tensions

22 April 2015

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China's President Xi Jinping today held talks on the sidelines of the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta, in a sign of easing tensions on both sides as they seek to repair a relationship damaged by territorial disputes and a bitter wartime legacy.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China's President Xi JinpingThe two leaders met on the sidelines of the Asia-Africa summit in the Indonesian capital for about 30 minutes, for the second time since taking office.

Reports quoting Japanese officials said the two leaders looked more relaxed when they shook hands than at a meeting at a summit in November last year in China, where they shared an awkward handshake.

Earlier, Prime Minister Abe and President Xi exchanged greetings and politely shook hands at a photo session, which many hoped would serve as a chance for Tokyo and Beijing to mend ties. It was not known how long the meeting lasted.

Asia's two most powerful nations have been holding on to their strained relationship over a territorial dispute and Tokyo's reluctance to atone for its colonial-era aggression toward China and other Asian neighbours.

In a speech today, Prime Minister Abe also expressed "deep remorse" for Japan's wartime past, but failed to repeat the language used in previous official apologies to the victims of Japan's colonial aggression.

Abe rather toned down his remorse by leaving out a phrase referring to Japan's "heartfelt apology" for its past. He also omitted references to Japan's "colonial rule and aggression."

Abe told local media that he had once apologised to the world for any of Japan's past mistakes and that he need not go through the process every time.

He made only passing reference to Japan's past militarism, noting Tokyo had "feelings of deep remorse over the past war" but insisted that its leaders had long ago committed to the principles of peace.

Abe also took a veiled swipe at China, saying the international community should "never allow to go unchecked the use of force by the mightier to twist the weaker around."

Beijing and Tokyo are involved in a worsening dispute over a group of strategic islands in the East China Sea.

China has also been accused by its neighbours of using its rising economic and military strength to bully smaller countries into submission.

Japan baiters also raise the issue Japanese leaders' insistence on visiting a Tokyo shrine that honors Japan's war dead, including some convicted World War II-era war criminals.

While over 100 Japanese lawmakers paid respects at the Yasukuni Shrine today, neither Abe nor any minister of cabinet rank paid a visit to the shrine.

Abe, who last visited the shrine in 2013, had defended the move saying it is natural for him to pay respects to the country's war dead.

Many in China and South Korea see the visits as evidence Japan is unrepentant for colonial-era atrocities committed in their countries.

Leaders of both China and South Korea expressed regret that Japan refused to squarely face and reflect upon the history of aggression and reconcile with its neighbours.

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