China-Japan drawing closer amid trade pressure from US

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018.(AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang after their joint press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, is shown the way by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as he arrives to a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A music drum reflects a Japanese flag fluttering outside the Great Hall of the People as members of military music band prepare for a welcome ceremony for visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, looks as he and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attend a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a joint press conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang gestures as he speaks next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, right, gestures next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as they arrive to attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. Prime Minister Abe is in Beijing as both countries try to repair ties that have been riven by disputes over territory, military expansion in the Pacific and World War II history. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono, foreground left, shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attend the signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. Prime Minister Abe has held a second meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li during the first formal visit to Beijing by a Japanese leader in nearly seven years.(AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A member of a Chinese honor guard is partially covered with red flags as he waits for the arrival of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrive to a joint press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Members of an honor guard hold flags as they wait for the arrival of visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, is shown the way by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as he arrives to a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, poses with Chinese President Xi Jinping for a photo before a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (Kyodo News via AP)
A limousine which carrying Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at the Great Hall of the People as he attend a welcome ceremony in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Members of a Chinese honor guard is covered with red flags as they wait for the arrival of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, speaks next to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a joint press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. Prime Minister Abe has held a second meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang during the first formal visit to Beijing by a Japanese leader in nearly seven years. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a joint press conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A Japanese delegate takes a smartphone photo of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018.(AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, second from right, talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, second from left, inside the Great Hall of the People Friday, Oct. 26, 2018 in Beijing, China. Prime Minister Abe has held a second meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li during the first formal visit to Beijing by a Japanese leader in nearly seven years. (Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP)
Members of an honor guard shout as they march in formation during a welcome ceremony for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, right, speaks next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang speaks during a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (Nicolas Asfouri/Pool photo via AP)
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, fifth from left, meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, third from right, inside the Great Hall of the People Friday, Oct. 26, 2018 in Beijing, China. Prime Minister Abe has held a second meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li during the first formal visit to Beijing by a Japanese leader in nearly seven years. (Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, second from right, talks during a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, inside the Great Hall of the People Friday, Oct. 26, 2018 in Beijing, China. Prime Minister Abe has held a second meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li during the first formal visit to Beijing by a Japanese leader in nearly seven years. (Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, speaks during a joint press conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A Japanese flag fluttering is reflected on a music instrument outside the Great Hall of the People as members of military music band prepare for a welcome ceremony for visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as he arrives to a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (Kyodo News via AP)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reviews an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, foreground, walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, center right, attend the signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

BEIJING — Shared trade friction with the U.S. appears to be drawing longtime Asian rivals China and Japan closer, with Chinese President Xi Jinping telling Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday that the two countries are "sharing more common interests and concerns."

China-Japan relations have undergone turbulence but are now "back to a normal track," Xi told Abe during the first formal visit to Beijing by a Japanese leader in nearly seven years.

"Under the new situation, our interdependence with each other has deepened. Also, we are sharing more common interests and concerns in multilateral and wider areas," Xi said.

Abe's visit highlights the improvement in ties after they hit a low in 2012 during a dispute over East China Sea islands controlled by key U.S. ally Japan but claimed by China.

While that feud remains unresolved, trade and investment have recovered and companies from the two sides are exploring joint investments in third countries such as Thailand.

China has come under increasing pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump's move to impose punitive tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese products and attempt to limit Chinese access to American technology. Beijing has responded with tariffs of its own on U.S. goods such as soybeans, and no swift resolution to the standoff appears likely.

Trump has also raised tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Japan and other countries, and is threatening tariffs on Japanese autos and auto parts. That seems to be prompting both countries to look for alternative markets and cooperate on foreign investments where their interests converge, despite their longstanding disagreements.

"In the past several years, the China-Japan relationship has experienced ups and downs. With the efforts made by both parties, our relationship has been straightened out and come back to a normal track," Xi said.

Abe responded that Japan believes the two countries should take a free and fair trade system to "a new level."

"Based on these principles, Japan and China need to work together and contribute to what the world in a sense expects of us, toward the peace and stability of the region, and that of the world," Abe said.

Prior to meeting Xi, Abe met twice with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to discuss issues ranging from the East China Sea dispute to trade cooperation and human rights, according to Abe spokesman Takeshi Osuga.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Li said 500 business agreements worth $18 billion had been signed between Chinese and Japanese companies during the visit, displaying the "bright future" for cooperation between the sides. Osuga said he could not confirm that figure, saying they were purely commercial arrangements reached by the companies involved.

Abe, who has been accompanied on his visit by a 500-strong business delegation, expressed hopes for closer ties and a shift in relations from "competition to cooperation," an apparent reference to the rifts that until recently have muted Japanese business interests in China.

The visit, which featured Japanese flags hung in the heart of Beijing, marks a dramatic outward improvement in ties from six years ago.

Anti-Japanese riots broke out in China after Tokyo nationalized the islands, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China, and Beijing froze high-level contacts. Tourism, trade and investment dropped off and Japanese-brand vehicles and other products were vandalized or destroyed.

Ties have also been dogged by enduring Chinese resentment over Japan's invasion and occupation last century and a political, military and economic rivalry for influence in Asia and beyond.

Speaking at a briefing for reporters, Osuga said ties had recovered from what had been "not normal relations with a neighboring country," but said differences remained. That is particularly true in the East China Sea, where in addition to the islands, China and Japan are at odds over the exploitation of natural gas and other resources.

"Prime Minister Abe reiterated his view that, without stability in the East China Sea, there will not be a true improvement of the relationship," Osuga said.

"The two leaders shared the view that there needs to be concrete progress in the field of maritime domain as balancing the security field, to build a constructive relationship and to get rid of the mutual distrust between the people of the two countries," he said.

To further that, the sides agreed to hold a meeting by the end of the year to discuss ways to avoid confrontations in the air and at sea, and also signed an agreement on search and rescue cooperation, Osuga said.

He declined to give details about the leaders' discussions on the territorial dispute, human rights and other sensitive issues.

Japan this year terminated four decades of government assistance to China, considered by some as a type of reparations for the damage caused during its invasion and occupation. As China's economy surged past Japan's to become the world's second largest, such assistance appeared increasingly anachronistic, although Japan had continued to provide funds for problems such as health and air pollution that affect the region as a whole.

For now, however, Asia's two largest economies appear to have shelved differences in favor of business ties. China is already Japan's largest trading partner and Japanese companies from carmakers to department stores play a major role in the Chinese economy.

Abe, who also attended a third-country investment conference and met with students at elite Peking University, is to return to Japan on Saturday. The last such visit was in late 2011.

Xi is expected to visit Japan next year, with Abe returning to China to attend a trilateral summit of the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea.

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