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International relations

Japan and China to form 'new relationship' for global cooperation

Tokyo and Beijing seen inking 'fifth document' during Xi's state visit in March

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, greets Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in June.

TOKYO/BEIJING -- Japan and China are considering signing a "fifth political document" during Chinese President Xi Jinping's planned visit to Japan next spring, sources familiar with the matter said Friday.

They will become countries that can cooperate on important global issues such as the economy and the environment, the proposed document will say.

The move comes as China draws closer to Japan amid its prolonged confrontation with the U.S. over trade and other issues. It also precedes Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's planned visit to China in late December.

Abe is expected to take advantage his close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump to explain the proposed fifth political document to the U.S.

Such political documents, signed between the two countries' leaders, are the basis of bilateral relations. Four such documents have been signed so far, including the 1972 joint statement that normalized bilateral diplomatic ties.

The 1972 document noted Beijing's stance on "One China," not recognizing Taiwan as a state, to which Japan expressed understanding and respect. It also declared China's renunciation of war reparations against Japan.

The 1978 Sino-Japanese peace and friendship treaty turned the content of the 1972 joint statement into a treaty. Japan supported China's economic development through official development assistance, fostering the growth of bilateral ties.

The 1998 joint declaration called for the two countries to "build a partnership of friendship and cooperation for peace and development." It also positioned the Japan-China relationship as "one of the most important bilateral relations" for each country.

The 2008 joint statement called for a "strategic, mutually beneficial" relationship. It was based on the idea of shelving historical and security issues, and instead focusing on cooperation in economic, environmental and other areas.

Although tensions between the two countries later rose following Japan's nationalization of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and Prime Minister Abe's visit to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, China remains Japan's biggest trading partner.

The Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islets which China claims and calls the Diaoyu Islands, have been a source of bilateral tension.

Xi is scheduled to visit Japan as a state guest in the spring of 2020. The trip will be the first official visit by a Chinese head of state since 2008. Assuming the meeting goes ahead, it will mark the biggest diplomatic milestone between the two countries in 12 years.

Abe plans to visit China in late December to attend a three-way meeting of leaders from Japan, China and South Korea. The Japanese government is making arrangements for a one-on-one meeting with Xi during his China visit.

The proposed fifth political document will lay out the direction of Sino-Japanese relations for the 2020s. It is based on the assumption that the two countries will go beyond the "strategic, mutually beneficial" relationship to one that centers on cooperating to address global issues.

On Oct. 23, Abe held talks with Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, who visited Japan to attend Emperor Naruhito's enthronement ceremony.

Abe and Wang affirmed that the two countries will take responsibility for peace and prosperity in Asia and the world and contribute to the international community.

The bilateral relationship will become more stable as part of a global framework.

Japan hopes to model the document on the "Japan-U.S. global partnership" enshrined in the Tokyo Declaration issued in 1992 by then-Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and U.S. President George H.W. Bush.

At the time, trade friction arose between Japan and the U.S., while their previous mutual adversary, the Soviet Union, disappeared with the end of the Cold War. In response, Japan and the U.S. affirmed new goals, such as contributing to the development of the global economy, and redefined their ties.

The themes of the proposed fifth political document are likely to include areas of interest to Japan, such as global warming and the situation in North Korea, while China is interested in nursing care, health care and agriculture. The two countries will also discuss trade rules.

According to Chinese diplomatic sources, Beijing also wants the new document to refer to terms such as "Belt and Road" and a "New Era," concepts that Xi has advocated.

In September, Kong Xuanyou, China's ambassador to Japan, expressed the country's willingness to issue a new document, saying: "If the conditions are right, it is possible for us to show a common understanding."

Amid its confrontation with the U.S., China sees strategic value in Japan.

In a speech on Oct. 24, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused China of growing increasingly "aggressive and destabilizing." He also lashed out at China's handling of tensions with Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In the U.S.-China trade talks, issues such as the easing of a ban on Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei have yet to be resolved.

In the past, China has leveraged its diplomacy with Japan as a way to ease its international isolation. Western countries imposed sanctions against China in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Japan moved to lift sanctions fairly quickly and Emperor Akihito visited China in 1992.

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