11/10/2014, 00.00
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APEC summit, first handshake between China and Japan

The leaders of the two Asian nations, in obvious discomfort, make a press appearance after bilateral talks to resolve the issue of disputed islands. Beijing still wants an apology from Tokyo for massacres committed during the occupation and the removal of the names of war criminals from Yasukuni shrine.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - After more than two years of high regional tensions and bilateral provocations, the leaders of China and Japan met for the first time. Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe shook hands for photographers during the APEC summit (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-Operation) being held in Beijing. The talks, says an official statement approved by both sides, represents " the first step for improving ties".

Tokyo and Beijing have never been good neighbors. Since the Japanese occupation of China in the nineteen thirties, relations between the two neighboring nations have been tense if not of open conflict. The issue of war reparations, the demand for an official apology for the massacres carried out by the Land of the Rising Sun in the south of China and the removal of the names of 14 Japanese war criminals in the Yasukuni shrine have been unresolved since the surrender of Japan in 1945.

Amid highs and lows, the two had co-existed more or less peacefully. However, things have worsened significantly since September 2012, when the Tokyo government "bought" a group of disputed islands from a private owner, over which Beijing claims sovereignty. The islands - known in Japanese as "Senkaku" and in Chinese as "Diaoyu" - have a strategic value and could harbor a subsoil rich in energy and mineral resources.

The sale has sparked the ire of the Chinese government, which began to send naval and air patrols to the area and to proclaim its sovereignty over the islands. On several occasions the Beijing military clashed with its Japanese counterpart, and on at least occasions came very close to a direct confrontation.

On 7 November, the two governments issued a joint statement in which they "agree to prevent any escalation of tension." Although in fact the text does not present possible solutions to resolve the crisis - and the islands are called by different names according to the signatory - for  Prime Minister Abe it is an opportunity "to mutually beneficial relations based on common strategic interests".

Chinese analysts point out, however, that in the picture where the two leaders shake hands (see above), the Chinese president is "clearly uncomfortable". In fact the two do not see eye to eye and are not even looking in the same direction. Moreover video images of the photo shoot show that Xi Jinping will not respond to attempts at dialogue of the other party, and left immediately after.


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