Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged Friday to promote new economic cooperation between their two countries, as bilateral ties have been improving amid trade disputes with the United States.
The two leaders agreed to create a “new framework” to jointly move ahead with infrastructure projects in third nations and strengthen a wide range of cooperation ranging from finance to innovation, Abe said at a press conference after meeting with Li.
Japan has already announced it will discontinue its 40-year official development assistance to China. By bolstering investment in other countries, the governments of Asia’s two biggest economies will aim to form a new model of economic cooperation between them.
In Beijing, Abe and Li also reached agreements to start talks about cooperation in state-of-the-art technology and protection of intellectual property rights as well as to resume their currency swap line in times of financial emergency.
“Switching from competition to collaboration, I want to lift Japan-China relations to a new era,” Abe told Li at the outset of their meeting. “Japan and China are neighbors and partners. We will not become a threat of each other.”
Abe arrived in Beijing on Thursday for the first official visit to China by a Japanese political leader in nearly seven years. Until late last year, relations between Tokyo and Beijing had been at their worst level in decades over a territorial row in the East China Sea.
Since earlier this year, Japan and China have been trying to boost economic ties as U.S. President Donald Trump has either threatened or implemented tariffs in an attempt to curb the huge U.S. trade deficits with them.
Also Friday, a forum was held to discuss Chinese and Japanese infrastructure investment in other countries.
Li told Abe, “Now that relations between the two countries have returned to a normal track, we would like to achieve win-win outcomes by stably developing our ties in the long term.”
“Especially regarding our economic and trade cooperation, we earnestly want to lift it to a new phase,” Li added.
Later in the day, Abe is scheduled to hold talks with President Xi Jinping. The Japanese prime minister has invited the Chinese head of state to visit Japan in the near future.
Abe and Li agreed that Japan and China will proceed with free trade, apparently warning against Trump’s trade protectionism.
Aiming to deepen trust in the security field, Tokyo and Beijing also signed an agreement to facilitate cooperation over search and rescue operations in the event of accidents in waters off the two nations.
Abe said Japan and China agreed to work together to open a hotline as soon as possible to avert accidental clashes at sea and in the air, adding that they should make efforts to make the East China Sea a “sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.”
Both countries, meanwhile, confirmed the importance of cooperation between them to achieve denuclearization of North Korea, with Abe saying Tokyo and Beijing will “fulfill responsibilities” for peace and stability in East Asia.
Abe also said China has promised to consider, based on scientific grounds, relaxing its ban on Japanese food imports imposed following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis triggered by the devastating quake-tsunami disaster.
As a symbol of friendship, Japan is believed to have asked for another giant panda to be leased to a zoo in the country.
For years, Tokyo and Beijing had been mired in a territorial spat over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The group of uninhabited islets, which are called Diaoyu in China, are controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.
Tensions particularly intensified after the Japanese government of former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Abe’s predecessor, decided to bring the Senkakus under state control in September 2012.
But the situation has changed recently, as this year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing and taking effect of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China.
Abe is accompanied on the trip to Beijing by Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko and a large number of business leaders.