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Abe continues to send mixed messages

The upcoming Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Beijing in November has been floated by numerous local media outlets Monday as an opportune venue for Japan and China to hold a summit.

However, whether the duo would use the platform to improve the soured relations stays unclear.

Tokyo had made illegal purchase of some of the Diaoyu Islands. And a number of other issues pertaining to history are casting shadow, exemplified by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visiting the contentious Yasukuni Shrine in 2013.

But whether or not the summit, which would be the first with Chinese leaders since Abe took office in 2012, comes to fruition, the onus of responsibility will still be on Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to take concrete steps towards improving relations that go beyond mere rhetoric and tackle some thorny issues squarely and honestly.

But as the recent-past dictates, for the hawkish Abe and his coterie of hard-nosed nationalists, facing controversial issues squarely, is hardly his, or their, forte.

"When it comes to foreign policy, we've seen a lot of gamesmanship from Abe and it's perfectly understandable why countries like China are becoming increasingly suspicious of Abe and his motives," political commentator and author Philip McNeil told Xinhua.

"Abe has consistently said he wants to rebuild relations with China and hold summit-level talks, but his actions continually seem to tell a different story," McNeil said.

He said Abe's recent trip to Latin America, which came just two days after Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up a tour to the region, was not solely about resource-poor Japan tapping into the region's rich resources, but also to sway diplomacy in the area as the Japanese leader has been doing on visits to 47 countries in the last 18 months.

"The timing is a little bizarre. Not only did the trip happen so soon after Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit, it was the first time in a decade a Japanese leader has visited the Central and South American region," said McNeil.

"I think it's safe to assume that Abe is looking to go head-to- head with China in the region economically, with Abe hoping to trade on Japan's cultural relationships with countries like Brazil, while at the same time pushing his agenda for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council," he said.

Japan and Brazil are both aiming to gain a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Abe agreed that they would work together in this regard as the United Nations approaches its 70th anniversary next year.

Abe and Rousseff said their governments would, henceforth, seek to forge stronger ties with both Germany and India, with the aim of creating a "Group of Four" nations-body, to, ultimately, attempt to reform the Security Council.

In the short-term, Abe wooed the top leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), in a bid to secure votes from these 14 nations and one territory, as Japan enters next year's autumn election to choose new nonpermanent members of the council.

"Obviously Japan has the financial clout to write some pretty big cheques in Latin America and this will help pave the way for Japanese businesses to expand projects in the region and aid an increase in imports to Japan of vital resources," Japanese Affairs commentator Kaoru Imori told Xinhua.

"But, as a senior aide to Abe was quoted as saying on the tour, the main purpose of Abe's visit was to secure votes for Japan as a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council, with an aim to becoming a permanent member with more vetoing powers and overall clout, which is in line with Abe's wide-reaching, global military agenda," said Imori.

Imori pointed to Abe and Rousseff's joint declaration as being a tacit frown on China's claims on the East and South China Sea and a move that stood contrary to Japan's continued bid to hold summit talks with China to improve soured ties.

"If Abe and Japan are serious about improving ties with China, then declarations that openly and somewhat unfoundedly criticize China for actions that were triggered by Japan, will serve no purpose," Imori said.

"At best the outcome would be that the standoff between Tokyo and Beijing, over territorial issues and differing perceptions of history continues, with the two countries agreeing to just merely tolerate each other, which is essentially where we are now."

"We've seen this time and time again with Abe and his government. Saying they want to improve diplomatic relations, but acting in a manner that is completely opposite," he added.

One of the burning points at the heart of the decline of ties between Tokyo and Beijing has been the former's insistence that there is no territorial dispute with China concerning the Diaoyu Islands, with the government's stance being that they are an inherent part of Japan's territory.

If Japan were serious about mending ties with China, then the timing of Japan opting to name a cluster of five uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China is truly bizarre, analysts here have attested.

The five islands named by Japan on Friday, which quickly drew the ire of Beijing who blasted the move as being "illegal and invalid" and infringing on China's territorial sovereignty, were among 158 islands that Japan's maritime policy department named.

"The only way for Japan to gain the ear of China in any scenario approaching a summit with China, is for Japan to take a more congenial approach to issues that have caused relations to sour in recent years," said McNeil.

"Such moves, including visits by Abe and senior ministers to Yasukuni (shrine), Abe's recent military recasting, reopening the Kono Statement, publicly denouncing China's air and sea activity and the naming of these islands, along with the timing of such actions, can only be interpreted as truculent, and, certainly not the actions of a leader who's truly looking to reestablish amiable ties with one of its closest neighbors," he said.

[Source: By Jon Day, Xinhua, Tokyo, 04Aug14]

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