The much-quoted purpose of this trip is to “melt the ice” between Japan and China.
Call me a skeptic, but I think I’m with the Carnegie Endowment’s Minxin Pei, who wrote in an op-ed in the FT (subscription required), “…It would be naive to see the improvement in atmosphere between Tokyo and Beijing as a substantive step towards removing tensions between the two countries. Few detect a fundamental shift in either’s policy. Neither China nor Japan has made real concessions on key bilateral disputes.”
I’m not all that convinced that negotiated solutions to many of the bilateral issues between China and Japan are possible, seeing as how they’re rooted in the region’s changing power dynamics. Let’s not forget the insecurity that China’s emergence spurs in Japan, even as interdependence between them grows.
But, that said, it is as imperative — or more imperative — for Japan to talk with China as it is for the US to talk with China. Regular Sino-Japanese summits — with or without concrete progress — have value in and of themselves; stability in the region depends on open communication within the US-China-Japan strategic triangle, and given the issues between Tokyo and Beijing, the Sino-Japanese leg of the triangle may be the most important.
Such is life in multipolar Asia, where every day brings another initiative to enhance communication and cooperation.