Japan’s prime minister reached out to the leaders of China and South Korea at an Asia-Pacific summit, officials said Tuesday, shaking hands and exchanging greetings in a bid to overcome deep tensions.
Shinzo Abe managed a brief encounter with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday and with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on Tuesday as all three attended group meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Indonesia.
“I understand that he shook hands with the two leaders,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.
“I think it’s good that the leaders see each other repeatedly and exchange greetings,” he said, after Abe staged similar encounters with Xi and Park at a Group of 20 summit in Russia last month.
There was no immediate comment from China or South Korea on the encounters, which fell short of Abe’s desire for full meetings with his neighbors’ leaders.
“I want to seize on an opportune time to exchange views” with them in Bali, Abe said in Tokyo on Sunday before leaving for the two-day APEC gathering, which ended on Tuesday.
“I want to send a message that the door of dialogue is always open.”
Abe has not held formal talks with the Chinese and South Korean leaders since taking office last December. Tokyo’s ties with its neighbors have been strained by territorial disputes and the legacy of Japan’s 20th century wartime aggression.
Abe’s brief handshake with Xi at the G20 in Saint Petersburg represented the first encounter between leaders of the two countries since relations took a nosedive in 2012 over the ownership of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, a row that has led to warnings of a possible armed confrontation.
The last trilateral meeting among China, Japan and South Korea was in May last year in Beijing, when the trio’s previous generation of leaders gathered.
Japanese officials in Bali and Tokyo were not explicit about any words exchanged at the APEC summit, but Japanese media played up the encounters, noting that Abe was all smiles as he sat next to Park at the start of a summit session on Tuesday.
Relations between Japan and South Korea had appeared to warm in the first half of 2012.
But they turned icy in August with then South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak’s sudden visit to Seoul-controlled islands that lie in waters between the two countries.