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At Tokyo meeting, China and Japan lay groundwork for better ties

Ping pong and pandas buoyed the five-day visit, but tougher issues, such as disputes over energy exploration, went unresolved.

By Christopher JohnsonCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 9, 2008


A carefully orchestrated visit this week to Japan by Chinese President Hu Jintao laid the groundwork for better relations after an extended chill between the two Asian powerhouses. But with both leaders eager to put to rest the extended chill between the two Asian powerhouses, the emphasis was on a "safe" summit that ducked contentious issues and sidestepped issues of global concern.

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During their meeting, Mr. Hu and Japanese President Yasuo Fukuda emphasized "friendship and cooperation" instead of rivalry, moving the nations further away from a period of sharp confrontations over wartime history. Indeed, Hu was careful to avoid inflaming nationalists in Japan, as former president Jiang Zemin did during a 1998 visit.

The leaders promised to meet at least once a year and Hu offered to loan pandas to Tokyo. But they failed to sign agreements on contentious issues such as oil and gas exploration in the East China Sea, although Mr. Fukuda said the countries were close to resolving the dispute over the gas fields, which China is tapping but Japan says should be jointly developed.

Also unresolved was blame for tainted dumplings from China that recently poisoned people in Japan. And if the two did exchange sharper views on subjects such as Darfur and Burma, it was behind closed doors.

"Be it the gyoza [dumpling] case or the oil and gas field problem, it is high time that the countries that exercise political leadership in Asia held talks squarely to move in the right direction," Akiko Domoto, the governor of Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo, said Wednesday. "It's better not to let pandas fool us."

In Japan, Hu lavished praise on the Japanese people for their hard work and urged both nations to "recognize each other's development objectively and accurately, and consider each other as partners for cooperation, not rivals." In a speech broadcast live on Japanese TV, he said that "[T]o remember history is not to nurse hatred, but to use history as a mirror and look forward to the future. Cherish peace, safeguard peace, let Chinese people and Japanese people be friends generation after generation."

But Hu also seemed eager to remind Japan that China, despite being on one of the world's largest economies, faces serious challenges. Speaking at Waseda University in Tokyo, Mr. Fukuda's alma mater, China's president told an audience of 900 people – including 200 students – that "China is still the world's largest developing country. Its population is large, its basis is weak, and its development is unbalanced."