Japan premier arrives in China

April 29, 2009
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, BEIJING, Apr 29 – Japan\’s premier arrived in China Wednesday for a two-day visit aimed at laying stronger foundations for cooperation between the historic Asian rivals, amid global economic and health crises.

Prime Minister Taro Aso, on his first state visit to China, was scheduled to meet his counterpart Wen Jiabao on Wednesday and President Hu Jintao on Thursday, despite further flare-ups over long-standing issues of tension.

Aso last week upset China with an offering to Tokyo\’s controversial Yasukuni war shrine, and then Japan\’s foreign minister chided Beijing over its nuclear weapons programme.

China\’s angry responses highlighted the sensitive nature of the relationship, with Beijing remembering Japan\’s past wartime abuses and Tokyo looking warily at China\’s rising might.

But analysts said Asia\’s two biggest economies would seek pragmatic ways to tackle mutual threats.

They were expected to discuss a range of issues from tackling a deadly strain of swine flu to North Korea\’s nuclear ambition to cooperation and dispute settlement in economic issues.

The summit aims to "nurture individual trust between the leaders… and to promote friendly national sentiment toward each other," said Akio Takahara, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Tokyo.

"The two countries are already important partners on the economic front and in security."

Ties have generally warmed significantly since the era of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who infuriated China with his annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine.

China suspended top-level talks with Japan during Koizumi\’s 2001-2006 tenure and only resumed dialogue after Shinzo Abe took over as prime minister and refrained from making similar visits.

One of the most pressing bilateral challenges is the global downturn. The two nations have said they must work together to face the crisis, as well as for longer-term economic development.

"China needs Japan\’s investment and technologies for its development, especially related to energy efficiency and environmental protection," Takahara said.

Zhang Haochuan, a Japan expert at China\’s Fudan University, said both sides would also likely see discussions on a potential Asian currency.

"They hope an Asian currency can be circulated as an international currency apart from US dollars and euros," he said.
North Korea\’s controversial nuclear weapons programme will also be on the agenda.

Japan, with the United States, led a push to punish North Korea after it launched a rocket over its territory early this month, while the regime\’s communist ally China, and Russia, favoured a softer line.

Analysts expect little progress in resolving a dispute over islands in the East China Sea, though the leaders were expected to discuss joint gas exploration there.

"China may not be convinced to take a serious attitude in negotiations with a Japanese government which may turn out to be short-lived," said Hidenori Ijiri, an East Asian relations expert at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

He noted that Aso faces elections by September with his approval rating lagging the opposition.

Aso and Wen are expected to pledge cooperation on environmental and energy conservation programmes, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper said.

Aso also will ask Wen to scrap Chinese plans to force foreign manufacturers to disclose key information of their cutting-edge electronic appliances, Japanese broadcaster NHK said.

Japanese manufacturers are reportedly concerned that revealing such information will undermine their competitiveness.

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