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Chinese PM Seeks New Trust With Japan

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (L) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe following the China-Japan joint declaration signing ceremony at the premier's official residence in Tokyo, 11 April 2007. Japan and China, issuing their first joint statement on relations in nearly a decade, agreed 11 April to "look frankly" at history and support a "constructive" world role for each power. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Hiroshi Hiyama
Tokyo (AFP) April 11, 2007
Japan and China called Wednesday for a new relationship of trust, respecting the aspirations of both Asian powers as Wen Jiabao paid the first visit by a Chinese premier to Tokyo in seven years.

On a trip that would have been unthinkable just months ago, Wen received red-carpet welcomes at the airport as children waved the countries' flags, and at a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"Both countries support each other's peaceful development and will enhance political trust between the two countries," said a joint statement between the two leaders.

While Asia's two largest economies made little concrete headway on their many disputes, the joint statement agreed to seek reconciliation on the issues between them, including bitter memories of the past.

Abe, speaking to Wen as he welcomed him under the pouring rain, said their talks "will be a big step toward building strategically and mutually beneficial relations."

"That is the most important goal of my visit," Wen said in response.

Both countries have been seeking to defuse political tensions that had been building for much of the past decade, even as their economies become increasingly dependent on each other.

China refused any summits with Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, due to the former premier's repeated visits during his five-year tenure to a war shrine which Beijing and Seoul see as a symbol of Japanese imperialism.

Wen shrugged off criticism from Japanese conservatives that China was "obsessed with the past or using it as a playing card," according to an official.

"The history issue stems from people's feelings and is the political foundation for Japan-China relations, so it is very important," Wen told Abe, as quoted by the Japanese leader's close aide, Hiroshige Seko.

"If we handle it well, it would become a good foundation. If not, it would affect the two nations' relationship," Wen said, according to Seko.

Abe, despite a reputation as a hardliner on emotive history issues, went to Beijing in October just days after taking over and has stayed strategically silent on whether he will visit the shrine.

In Wednesday's joint statement, Japan and China agreed "to look at history frankly and jointly build a beautiful future for the bilateral relationship."

The two nations have jostled for global influence, with Japan outraged when China in 2005 blocked Tokyo's cherished bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

"China said Japan should play a more constructive role in the international community," the joint statement said, without explicitly backing the UN bid.

Japan also pledged support for China to curb greenhouse gases to combat global warming, a Japanese official said.

In a first agreement hours before Wen's arrival from Seoul, the two countries signed a deal to resume Japanese rice exports to China after a four-year gap.

China in 2004 surpassed the United States as Japan's top trading partner, as Japanese firms turn to the country for its ample pool both of cheap labour and middle-class consumers.

The two countries also agreed to start flights to Shanghai from Tokyo's domestic airport, Haneda, to accommodate the growing number of business travellers.

But China and Japan announced only to keep negotiating on one of their most protracted disputes -- contested gas fields in the East China Sea. The two sides had extensive talks in recent weeks amid hopes for a breakthrough in time for Wen's visit.

In another sign of continued tension, Abe called on Wen to be more transparent on China's military spending, which has alarmed Japan and the United States by growing at a double-digit rate.

Wen was quoted as telling Abe that China "is firm in its stance that it is staying on the path of peaceful development."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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