Some called it a historic handshake, a first between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe since they took office. But the gesture hardly reminded one of a thaw in relations, let alone a breakthrough, between the two sides. In fact, the gesture seemed to be an attempt at negating itself, an unwilling attempt at conducting a formality between the two most important members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, with little warmth or vigor in it.
The ensuing meeting between the two leaders lasted half the time given to formal meetings at the summit. It is believed that if the Chinese leader smiled too much, he would antagonize a nationalistic audience at home, which has been told for more than two years that Mr. Abe was not worth meeting. On the other hand, if he glared at Mr. Abe, Mr. Xi would sour world opinion. Thus, the tepid interaction.
Still some political observers see it as a sign of improvement in relations. The encounter came three days after the two countries agreed to a formal document in which they recognized their differing positions on the East China Sea, including the waters around the cluster of disputed islands, known in China as the Diaoyu and in Japan as the Senkaku.
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