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Chinese President Hu's visit to Japan boosts warming trend

Hu Jintao will play ping-pong and talk pandas and energy. The visit comes as strains over interpretations of history appear to be easing.

By Christopher JohnsonCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 7, 2008

Friendlier: Well-wishers waved Japanese and Chinese flags as Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Tokyo for what is only the second visit by a Chinese leader. The two countries’ relations have been improving after years of contentious ties.

Koji Sasahara/AP

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As Hu Jintao begins only the second visit ever to Japan by a Chinese president, he's likely to find a government eager for warmer relations and a public equally eager to show concern about China's imports, human rights record, and nationalistic ambitions.

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Mr. Hu's trip comes as the two countries try to move beyond lingering tensions over former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo, and past anti-Japanese riots in Shanghai and soccer violence in Beijing. This week, Tokyo hopes to sign accords on global warming, resolve disputes over oil and gas in the East China Sea, and boost the ruling party's dismal 20 percent approval rating.

During his five-day trip, which started Tuesday, Hu is expected to meet Japanese Emperor Akihito, and play ping-pong and hold summit talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who visited Beijing in December. Hu is scheduled to speak at Waseda University in Tokyo, visit a Chinese school in Yokohama, and perhaps offer a new panda to replace the long-beloved Ling Ling, who died last week.

Hu has been vocal about his positive expectations for the two countries' ties. Ahead of his trip, he told former Japanese leader Yasuhiro Nakasone that he thanked Japan for supporting the Olympics and securing the torch run in Nagano without major incident. Upon arrival, he said that both countries benefit from a "good neighborly friendship."

On Tuesday, Hu shared an informal dinner with Mr. Fukuda at a Tokyo restaurant linked to Sun Yat-sen, China's revolutionary hero, reported Kyodo News. Police and men in business suits who identified themselves as undercover officers guarded checkpoints.

Pro-Tibet protests

They also monitored the pro-Tibet protest down the boulevard in leafy Omotesando district. Indeed, Hu's visit appears to be energizing average Japanese eager to express their desire for action over imported Chinese dumplings tainted with pesticides and China's crackdown in Tibet.

"We should welcome him, because we have something to say to him," says Kaori Hazama, who works in fashion and helped organize about 3,000 people to demonstrate in central Tokyo on Tuesday for freedom and justice in China and Tibet. "If Hu Jintao stays in China, he can't know the reality in the world. Visiting Japan is a good chance to see what is really going on."

Ria Osuka, a housewife, also expressed concern that Japanese leaders would not speak forthrightly to Hu. "The government of Japan is always so quiet," she says. "The Japanese government never says no to China. This is a time for Japan to change. It's good to sit together at the table if you say something to each other, not only smile."