TAIPEI - The leaders of China and Japan agreed to resume high-level dialogue and increase exchanges on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok this week, but experts are questioning how much progress the two made in easing the longstanding friction between their countries.
In the 45-minute exchange Thursday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Xi Jinping agreed to build a "constructive and stable" relationship and promote cooperation in environment protection, energy-savings and health care and resume bilateral, high-level economic dialogue.
'Both China and Japan hold responsibilities in ensuring the security and peace of this region and in the wider international community,' Kishida said in his opening remarks.
Kishida, who became Japan's 100th prime minister in October 2021, told reporters that he agreed with Xi on reopening communications, and that Japan's foreign minister will visit China in the near future.
Kishida served as Japan's minister for foreign affairs from 2012-17 and as acting minister of defense in 2017. In the past, he has worried about China's growing power and influence in the region and globally.
Kishida reiterated those concerns as recently as Nov. 13 in Cambodia at the East Asia Summit.
'There has been continued, increasing actions by China in the East China Sea that violate Japan's sovereignty. China also continues to take actions that heighten regional tension in the South China Sea,' he said according to a statement released by Japan's foreign ministry.
Xi stressed China's stance on the concerns and challenges the two countries share when the two met Thursday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping gestures after the 29th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting (AELM) during the APEC Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, Nov. 18, 2022.
Xi, now in a precedent-breaking third term as China's president, said that fundamental maritime and territorial disputes 'must be handled in good faith and appropriately,' and that China does not "accept any excuse by anyone to interfere in its internal affairs," according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Xi was referring to Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island Beijing regards as its own province, and a scattering of islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands by Japan and the Diaoyu by China. The longstanding dispute over the largely uninhabited islands is rooted in disputes over Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundaries and the continental shelf boundary.
After U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, China conducted days of massive military exercises around Taiwan including launching ballistic missiles over the island, five of which landed near the disputed islands.
Kishida told reporters at that time that "China's actions this time around have a serious impact on the peace and stability of our region and the international community."
At this week's meeting with Xi, Kishida reiterated the importance of "peace and stability" in those waters and agreed to boost communications between the two countries' defense authorities.
Ho Szu-shen, director of the Center for Japanese and East Asian Studies at Taiwan's Fu Jen Catholic University, told VOA Mandarin, "On the issue of the Taiwan Strait, he (Kishida) seems to keep following a rhetoric like that of Shinzo Abe in the past, or even Yoshihide Suga. But I think that in the current Sino-Japan relations, of course, it is a relatively cold state, but neither wants to let the relationship continue to deteriorate."
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida applauds in the APEC Leader's Dialogue with APEC Business Advisory Council, the part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation APEC summit, Nov. 18, 2022, in Bangkok, Thailand.
Abe served two terms as Japan's prime minister from 2006-07 and again from 2012-20. Suga held the office for a year beginning in September 2020.
Hideshi Tokuchi, president of the Research Institute for Peace and Security in Japan and a former vice-minister of defense for international affairs, believes that the positions of Japan and China remain far apart on the Taiwan Strait. He said China's attitude has always been very tough, and that the situation cannot be eased through dialogue.
He said, 'Japan's position is to hope that Taiwan and China can peacefully resolve the issues surrounding the Taiwan Strait through dialogue, and Japan does not accept the use of force to change the status quo. On the other hand, China never renounced the use of force against Taiwan and has always emphasized that this is China's internal affairs. Therefore, I think the differences between Japan and China on the Taiwan Strait issue are really difficult to eliminate.'
Regarding another disputed territory, the Senkaku Islands, Kishida said he conveyed "serious concerns" about Chinese government ships having a steady presence near the uninhabited islets and regularly intruding into Japanese territorial waters.
Tokuchi told VOA Mandarin, "In this month alone, Chinese ships have invaded the waters around the Senkaku Islands twice and crossed the borders, and recently this behavior has tended to be more and more frequent."
He said, "I believe that the most important thing for Kishida this time is to sternly convey to China Japan's determination to resolutely protect Japanese territory and not tolerate any violation of Japan's sovereignty.
"Regarding the Senkaku Islands, Japan's position is very clear. The Senkaku Islands are Japan's inherent territory historically and according to international laws. In fact, Japan also dominates the Senkaku Islands, so there is no so-called territorial issue that needs to be resolved.'
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.