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International relations

Japan and China pledge move from 'competition to collaboration'

Beijing seeks improved ties with Tokyo amid escalating US trade war

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang signed a raft of agreements after meeting in Beijing on Oct. 26. (Photo by Konosuke Urata)

BEIJING -- Japan and China agreed Friday on a raft of economic and security initiatives aimed at improving bilateral ties, as Beijing seeks cooperation from Tokyo amid prolonged trade tensions with Washington.

The agreements cover a wide range of areas, from easing maritime tensions to cooperation in energy, infrastructure development and technology.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang signed the accords after a meeting in the Great Hall of People in Beijing. 

"Switching from competition to collaboration, I want to lift Japan-China relations to a new era," Abe said during the initial remarks of the meeting. "Japan and China are neighbors and partners. We will not become a threat to each other."

Abe also said that Japan wants to work with China to "develop free and fair trading relations," and added that "Premier Li and I have confirmed these principles." 

With relations returning to a normal track, responded Li, Beijing "would like to achieve win-win outcomes" for the two countries.

The trip marks the first official visit to China by a sitting Japanese leader for bilateral meetings in seven years. Abe is scheduled to hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping later in the day.

Abe extended an invitation for Xi to visit Japan, saying, "I want to develop bilateral relations further by continuing high-level exchanges without a break." Abe's visit follows a trip Li made to Japan in May.

The principles Abe referred to were echoed in the nature of the deals.

The two countries agreed to set up a discussion framework on cutting-edge technology and intellectual property, a scheme that China hopes will help ride out a potential shortage of components resulting from the trade dispute with the U.S. Tokyo, meanwhile, hopes it will help companies secure more protection from Beijing for their intellectual property rights.

On the security front, the two governments agreed to promote the peaceful development of natural gas fields in the East China Sea. Joint work on projects in the area was agreed in 2008, but has stalled amid tensions over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which China claims and refers to as the Diaoyu.

There was also a pledge to cooperate in third-country infrastructure projects, making such activity a cornerstone of renewed economic collaboration. Roughly 50 projects have been earmarked for joint development, including the construction of a 'smart city' in Thailand

China hopes that working with Japan will be a boost to its Belt and Road Initiative, which has come under criticism for forcing emerging countries to take on excessive debt. Japan, on the other hand, sees cross-border partnerships as potentially helping Japanese companies that have often struggled to compete with Chinese rivals offering lower bids for projects.

An agreement was also reached on reviving bilateral currency swaps. A previous such arrangement expired in 2013 as relations soured over the Senkaku Islands. The upper limit for exchanges will be roughly 10 times as large as it was under the first agreement, at 3 trillion yen ($26.7 billion).

To further reduce maritime tensions, Tokyo and Beijing agreed to begin holding annual meetings between top defense officials, starting this year, with the aim of avoiding accidental clashes in the area. They also agreed to sign an accord on search and rescue cooperation in the near future.

Other outstanding issues were also discussed, including Chinese restrictions on Japanese food imports, a measure Beijing has kept in place since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. China told Japan that it would consider relaxing the restrictions and would make its judgment on a scientific basis. 

As a symbol of warming bilateral ties, the two leaders also confirmed that arrangements would be made for a panda to be leased to Japan.

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