China’s President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finally broke the ice between their two nations on Monday, an uncomfortable handshake marking the pair’s first meeting at a regional summit in Beijing.
The first summit meeting in two and a half years between the nation’s leaders lasted around 25 minutes, and was an attempt to rebuild diplomatic and economic ties eroded by military tensions over an island dispute and animosity over wartime history. The pair have not formally met since taking office in December 2012 and March 2013 respectively.
But there was no warmth as the two men shook hands before their meeting in the Great Hall of the People, with Xi looking impassive as Abe spoke and then turning to the cameras with no trace of a smile.
“I believe this is the first step for both Japan and China to return to our basic focus of mutually beneficial and strategic relations, and to improve them,” Abe told reporters after the meeting. “We continue to make behind-the-scenes efforts to begin dialogue between our two nations.”
Xi’s comments seemed more guarded, mixing his wish for stable relations with his hope that Japan “keeps with the path of peaceful development and adopts a prudent military security policy,” state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Tokyo had been eager for the meeting, with aides to Abe saying he genuinely wanted better relations, and officials going to great lengths afterwards to portray it as a success.
A Japanese government spokesman said that the atmosphere of the meeting was “sincere” and that Xi had greeted Abe in a “very gentlemanly way”. As the meeting got underway, Abe told Xi that he’d recently seen a Chinese ballet performance, and Xi nodded “in a relaxed manner,” the official said.