Abe Visit is Ray of Sunlight Amidst Stormy Japan-China Relations

Abe Visit is Ray of Sunlight Amidst Stormy Japan-China Relations

It was raining in Beijing the morning of Oct. 8 as new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe flew to the city on his maiden official trip to China. As his aircraft touched down in the Chinese capital, the rain stopped and the sky began to clear, a phenomenon cited by both Abe and the Chinese media as a sign that Sino-Japanese ties were slowly but surely on the mend. An editorial in the China Daily, the country's national English-language newspaper, said the break in the rain illustrated "optimism in the long-strained ties between China and Japan" and urged the two nations' leaders to "put ties in the sunlight."

Abe, for his part, spoke to reporters about the Beijing sunshine and said he believed relations between the two Asian giants had a bright future, "like the sky after rain." With the dark clouds of North Korea's nuclear test still several hours away -- and at that particular time seeming fairly unlikely -- a conciliatory Abe met China's three top leaders, charmed the media and even managed to elicit some optimism from the notoriously suspicious Chinese public. Indeed, to continue with the weather analogy, for the first time in almost five years, the freeze in China-Japan relations seemed to be thawing in the face of some glorious diplomatic sunshine.

As it happened, Abe's trip, which included meetings between Abe and Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and top legislator Wu Bangguo on Oct. 8, was blasted out of the global consciousness in a matter of hours by the nuclear test announced by North Korea. But the impact of his visit, featuring significant concessions from both sides and positive vibes all around, is sure to be felt in China for some time. With Abe making Beijing the destination of his first official foreign visit as prime minister, China responded to the gesture by arranging meetings with the three most important Chinese leaders on the first day of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee plenary session, traditionally an extremely busy day in the political calendar.

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