“Regarding Discussions toward Improving Japan-China Relations” is one of if not the most sobering joint statements (or better, perhaps, “simultaneous announcement”) that I’ve seen. Phrases like “some recognition” and “gradually resume” are more the reluctant recognition of the need to work together and if that’s impossible to at least coexist than the expression of expectations of a better relationship going forward. The establishment (fingers crossed) of “a crisis management mechanism and avert the rise of unforeseen circumstances” is a tacit recognition that the tensions around the Senkaku Islands and otherwise in the East China Sea will continue.
Two more takeaways for the foreseeable future. First, any bilateral meetings between the two heads will be held on the sidelines of a multilateral setting—no state visits. Second, there will be no similar efforts or outcome between Japan and South Korea. The embattled president of a democracy does not have the kind of elbow room to negotiate a political truce that her counterpart in an authoritarian state has. Patching up things with Prime Minister Abe has little potential economic value. It’s not as if South Korea could coax, say, Toyota into building a factory there even if the folks there wanted to. President Park would be strongly incented to behave differently if the statement had been less equivocal and the prospective summit more cordial than it is likely to be. As it is, there’s no need to play catch-up-to-China.