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Shinzo Abe and Xi Jinping Shared a Really Awkward Handshake in Beijing

Locked in a territorial dispute over a set of obscure — if strategically important — rocks in the South China Sea, Japan and China have seen their relationship become significantly frostier. For evidence of this chilly relationship, look no further than Monday’s meeting in Beijing between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo ...

Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon-Pool/Getty Images
Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon-Pool/Getty Images

Locked in a territorial dispute over a set of obscure — if strategically important — rocks in the South China Sea, Japan and China have seen their relationship become significantly frostier. For evidence of this chilly relationship, look no further than Monday’s meeting in Beijing between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

It’s easy to overinterpret awkward encounters between world leaders as representative of actual events, but in the case of China and Japan’s well-documented tensions, Monday’s encounter between the two men is little more than a hilarious confirmation of what we already knew:

Monday’s meeting, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, was Xi and Abe’s first since the two men entered office. Both have pursued broadly nationalist agendas at home that have helped stoke tensions with their respective neighbors. Xi has aggressively advanced his country’s claims to resource-rich islands that are also claimed by several of his neighbors, including Japan. Abe, meanwhile, is pushing to revise his country’s constitution to bolster Japanese military capabilities and check what Tokyo believes is Beijing’s surging ambitions as a regional power.

The fact that the two men are meeting at all is certainly a positive sign that diplomatic avenues between the two countries remain open. So the two men probably had a lot to talk about after that awkward handshake.

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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