Abe, Xi talk movies and football over a dinner of Kobe beef and Niigata rice

OSAKA – Kobe beef, Omi wagyu and Japan’s highest-quality rice were on the menu as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pulled out the stops in hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping to a traditional washoku dinner on Thursday (June 27).

Over their 70-minute meal, they went beyond discussing regional and international issues such as United States-China relations to chatting about movies, football and the Olympics.

Their talks were cordial and frank, said Japan’s Foreign Ministry in a statement on Friday.

Mr Abe also offered a toast to Mr Xi, in celebration of his 66th birthday on June 15.

Their dinner came after an hour-long bilateral summit, during which they vowed to turn a page in their contentious past and redefine their relationship as that of “eternal neighbours” who will not allow ties to deteriorate again.

Mr Abe spared no expense in his lavish welcome for Mr Xi – the first Chinese President to visit Japan in almost nine years.

Kobe and Omi beef, the latter from Shiga prefecture, are deemed to be among Japan’s top three wagyu brands, while rice from Niigata prefecture – known as uonuma koshihikari – is deemed the best grade in Japan.

Beijing and Tokyo have long sparred over Japan’s wartime aggression while their bitter territorial spat over the East China Sea islets of Senkaku/Diaoyu, which Japan nationalised in 2012, has led to a deep freeze in ties in recent years.

But relations have been on the mend since last year, when Mr Abe and Mr Xi agreed to put aside their differences as they celebrated the 40th year of a seminal bilateral peace and friendship treaty.

In their bilateral talks, the two leaders agreed to work together to promote “free and fair trade” amid the complicated global landscape, with Mr Xi calling on both countries to work together to “give predictability and fresh energy to the global economy”.

Both China and Japan have trade disputes with the US, whose President, Mr Donald Trump, has called for a redress to the substantial trade imbalance with both nations.

Mr Abe invited Mr Xi as a state guest in spring next year, during which he will have an audience with Emperor Naruhito. The Japanese PM said: “We would like to welcome President Xi as a state guest around the time of the cherry blossoms next spring and wish to take Japan-China relations to a higher level.”

Mr Xi replied that the plan was a “good idea” and will crystallise “a new atmosphere that we have not seen for many years”.

They agreed to spearhead consistent high-level reciprocal exchanges. Mr Abe, on his part, had been the first Japanese leader to make an official visit to China in seven years when he went to Beijing in October last year.

At the time, they agreed to work towards improving infrastructure in third countries, in what could be a convergence of their countries’ respective marquee visions. China is spearheading the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to connect countries through infrastructure projects, while Japan is promoting its vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

To this end, China’s Foreign Ministry said the two sides “will continue to focus on promoting third-party market cooperation to achieve solid results”.

Japan’s Foreign Press Secretary Takeshi Osuga added in a press briefing that any cooperation – while welcome – must be based on international standards.

Separately, in another sign of warming Sino-Japan ties, public broadcaster NHK reported that Mr Xi had sent a letter dated Tuesday in reply to Mr Daichi Nakajima, 26, who leads a bilateral youth exchange association.

Mr Xi said he was happy that young people like Mr Nakajima have devoted much time to learning Mandarin in an effort to deepen friendships with China.

“The foundation of the Sino-Japan friendship is among its people, and the future of the relationship is entrusted in the hands of the youth,” he wrote.

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