Japan called Thursday for “constructive and stable” ties with China as the two sides marked 50 years since the normalisation of relations, albeit with little public fanfare.
Growing friction over China’s military might and regional sabre-rattling has left ties between Beijing and Tokyo frosty, and there was no major diplomatic ceremony to mark the anniversary.
Instead, messages from Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping were read out at an event in Tokyo backed by the government and the Chinese embassy, and hosted by the powerful Keidanren business lobby.
In his message, Kishida, who was not present at the event, warned that relations with China, “while possessing various possibilities, face many challenges and issues”.
“I would like to build constructive and stable Japan-China relations for the peace and prosperity of not only our two nations but also the region and the world,” he said.
Xi said in his message that ties were of “great importance”, adding he was willing to work with Kishida to use the anniversary as an “opportunity”.
The countries should “work together to build a China-Japan relationship that meets the requirements of the new era,” he added.
The world’s second and third-largest economies are key trading partners and just a few years ago seemed poised for a diplomatic blossoming, with plans for a state visit by Xi.
Since then, ties have significantly soured as Beijing bolsters its military, projects power regionally and beyond, and takes a harder line on disputed territory.
In recent months, Chinese missiles are believed by Japan to have fallen within its exclusive economic zone, and Tokyo has protested what it calls growing aerial and maritime violations.
Japan also regularly complains about Chinese activity around the disputed Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyus.
The war in Ukraine has only deepened the divide, with Japan backing Western allies opposed to Russia’s invasion while Beijing avoids criticising Moscow.
Japan’s brutal occupation of parts of China before and during World War II also remains a sore point, with Beijing accusing Tokyo of failing to atone for its past.
Despite all the tensions, the two countries remain economically intertwined: China is Japan’s largest trading partner and Japan is China’s second-largest after the United States.
And there have been reports that Xi and Kishida could hold talks online or in person in the coming months.