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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wen arrives to 'melt ice,' promote ties


Staff writer

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived Wednesday afternoon in Tokyo and met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, kicking off a three-day visit described by Wen as "a trip to melt the ice" between the two Asian powers.

News photo
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao waves upon arrival at Tokyo's Haneda airport Wednesday afternoon to kick off a three-day visit to Japan. AP PHOTO

Japan-China relations have soured in recent years over historical, energy and territorial disputes, particularly Yasukuni Shrine and economic exclusion zones in the East China Sea.

But with Wen's visit -- the first by a Chinese premier in more than six years -- Beijing is now highlighting the importance of economic cooperation, particularly in addressing energy and environmental problems confronting China.

After a meeting at the Prime Minister's Official Residence, Wen and Abe signed a joint statement on bilateral cooperation centered on the transfer of Japanese technologies to make more China energy-efficient while better protecting the environment.

Beijing also pledged to "actively participate" in international negotiations to cut down on emissions of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases after 2013, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for developed countries expires.

In the 10-point statement, the two nations agreed to cooperate in fighting water pollution in the Changjiang River, promote resource recycling in Qindao and other areas, and transfer Japanese technologies to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Wen is also heading a trade delegation of about 150 executives from 50 major Chinese energy companies. They will attend a forum and reception Thursday with about 450 executives from Japanese firms in the energy sector.

China, second only to the United States in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, has refused to participate in international efforts to reduce emissions on grounds that it is still a developing country.

China has faced a number of environmental problems amid its exploding energy consumption, and leaders are now apparently putting priority on reconciliation with Japan to help maintain its rapid economic growth.

During the Abe-Wen meeting, Wen did not bring up Yasukuni Shrine or any other historical issues, although he did say that the "proper handling" of issues related to their shared history was the basis of good bilateral relations, according to a Japanese official who attended the meeting.

"We have to appreciate and maintain this good momentum, which we have finally achieved," Wen said in a speech during a welcoming banquet.

News photo
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (right) and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attend a welcoming ceremony Wednesday at the Prime Minister's Official Residence in Tokyo. KYODO PHOTO

During the meeting, Wen asked Abe to visit China again, according to the official at the meeting. The prime minister replied that he would make a trip by the end of the year.

Abe also extended an invitation to Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit Japan early next year. Wen told him that Beijing would consider the offer, the official said.

In a related move Wednesday, trade minister Akira Amari and Ma Kai, head of China's National Development and Reform Commission, signed a joint statement on comprehensive bilateral cooperation in energy.

Abe and Wen were set to hold a "kick-off meeting" Thursday to launch a new dialogue mechanism between the two governments over economic issues.

"We achieved a major step in improving the Sino-Japanese relationship when Prime Minister Abe made a big decision in October and visited China," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told reporters hours before Wen's arrival.

Wen's visit, a return call for Abe's surprise trip, is designed to substantiate "the mutually beneficial relationship" based on common strategic interests, which the leaders agreed to aim for last year, Shiozaki said.

Bilateral ties soured when Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, was in power in part due to his annual visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which inflamed history issues.

Abe, even though he is considered a hawkish nationalist, visited China soon after his inauguration and improved political relations. He has avoided diplomatic friction with Beijing by staying away from the Yasukuni issue.

Wen praised Abe's visit as "a trip to break the ice," and said he hopes his return call will "melt the ice," putting bilateral relations on a more stable track.

One of the thorny issues they did not discuss is their disagreement over the development of gas fields in an area of the East China Sea the two countries both claim is in their exclusive economic zones.

Wen and Aso only agreed to arrange another a senior government-level meeting in May to explore ways to solve the dispute, Japanese officials said. Tokyo has proposed joint development.

Earlier in the day, China agreed to lift a four-year ban on Japanese rice. The first 25-ton shipment of high-quality rice is expected to hit the Chinese market within the next few months.

Farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka and Li Changjiang, China's top food inspection official, signed the agreement to coincide with Wen's visit to Tokyo.

Beijing banned Japanese rice in 2003, citing the risk of introducing harmful insects to China. Despite the high cost of growing rice in Japan, farmers now hope to export their grain to wealthy Chinese consumers.

Wen also offered to present two ibises as a symbol of friendship of the two countries. The wild ibis is nearing extinction in Japan and efforts are made to save them.

Wen will address the Diet Thursday morning, a first for a Chinese premier.

After having an audience with Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace, Wen will meet leaders of major political parties in the afternoon and attend a reception to commemorate the Japan-China sports and cultural exchange year in the evening.

He will head for Kyoto on Friday to meet local corporate executives, stop by houses of farmers and take in a baseball game involving students of Ritsumeikan University.

According to Foreign Ministry officials, Wen himself chose to visit Kyoto during his visit.

Staff writers Shinichi Terada and Hiroko Nakata contributed to this article.


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