East Asia summit ends with Japan-China handshake, promise to improve ties

East Asia summit ends with Japan-China handshake, promise to improve ties

East Asia's first summit of leaders ended yesterday with an agreement to hold annual talks on strategic issues such as trade and security - and a rare handshake between the leaders of Japan and China.

The gesture, after months of feuding between Asia's two biggest economies over their wartime past, came after 16 leaders signed a declaration calling for annual talks on issues that also included health scares such as bird flu and energy security.

"We have all agreed that East Asian community will be a reality in the future," Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who chaired the half-day talks, told reporters.

But he drew a distinction between what he saw as the core members of an East Asian community - Southeast Asia and North Asia - and countries such as India, Australia and New Zealand, which he said did not belong geographically in East Asia.

"I don't know how the Australians will regard themselves as East Asians, or New Zealanders for that matter," he said, adding these countries instead shared common interests with East Asia.

The summit brought together leaders of the 10 Southeast Asian nations that convened it, plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand - a gathering that represented about half the world's population and a fifth of global trade.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a brief speech to the summit, and stated Moscow's desire to become an official member, a Japanese official told reporters. A decision on Russia's inclusion in the summit is to be made next year, Abdullah said.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) said he had assured the summit of his country's commitment to peaceful development and downplayed concerns Beijing might want to dominate the new forum, noting that U.S. allies Japan and Australia were members.

"It should be open, welcoming Australia, New Zealand, India and Russia's participation and also strengthens the contact between the U.S., the EU and other countries," Wen told reporters.

"That way it will give more meaning to the East Asia summit."

The summit had fuelled speculation that it would take the first step toward a huge pan-Asian free-trade area. But expectations were set low, partly due to Japan-China bickering.

On Wen's handshake with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (劉建超) said: "Everybody saw clearly what happened at the meeting place, but China's attitude toward the question of history between China and Japan has not changed."

That was a reference to Koizumi's visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine which honors some convicted war criminals along with Japan's 2.5 million war dead - the heart of the dispute.

Koizumi told reporters he did not understand the criticism.

"I go to the Yasukuni shrine to express my feelings that we should, reflecting on World War Two, never again stage war, and at the same time, to pay respects for those who lost their lives on the battlefield." he said.

"I have absolutely no intention to glorify or justify the past war."

Updated : 2021-04-16 15:00 GMT+08:00