Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Indonesia, a rare gesture between the leaders of the two Asian rivals.
It was the second time the two leaders showed signs of cordiality since they took office—they first acknowledged each other in September during the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The gesture, although closely-watched, was no indication that the two Asian giants were moving forward with talks on the bitter territorial dispute that has strained diplomatic and economic relations.
Tomohiko Taniguchi, a councilor for the cabinet secretariat in Abe’s office, said the prime minister was open to talks with Beijing that would sidestep the sovereignty dispute over the Senkaku islands.
“There is just one area of issue that is pretty hard for the Japanese to discuss and that is the islands issue,” he said. “If we agree to discuss the issue, it would be tantamount to agreeing on the existence of a sovereignty issue.”
Tensions mounted after Tokyo purchased several of the islands from a private owner late last year.
In addition, Abe shook hands—reportedly—with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye when they met in Bali. Japan’s relations with South Korea have been frayed by Japan’s wartime past and rival claims over territories.
“I think it’s good that the leaders see each other repeatedly and exchange greetings,” Japanese Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.
The Japanese premier previously said he aims to meet with the Xi and Park separately on the fringes of the regional forum.
“I want to seize the opportune time to exchange views” with them in Bali, Abe said in Tokyo ahead of the two-day APEC meeting.
By: Maesie Bertumen