04/13/2007, 00.00
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Applause and sympathy for Wen, talks focus on the economy and the military

China’s premier meets ordinary people today. He highlights the need for concrete co-operation between the two countries to renew a shared history that spans 2,000 years. The two countries have many common interests. Military co-operation starts again.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has a busy schedule today, his last day in Japan, including meetings with ordinary Japanese in the streets and viewing cherry trees in bloom. Japan’s press and experts have already given flowing reviews to his visit which is a success first and foremost for just taking place. Mr Wen is in fact the first Chinese leader to visit Japan since 2000.

At Ritsumeikan University he pitched a baseball and told students that as a young man he liked the game, one of Japan’s national sports.

In Kyoto he visited a factory and had tea at the former Imperial Palace. At the reception he told guests that his mother had praised his speech to the Japanese parliament when they chatted by phone.

In informal albeit well prepared meetings with ordinary people (at Ritsumeikan Wen wore a baseball uniform with the university’s name whilst the tea room was adorned with a scroll that said ‘mutual respect’), the premier stressed person-to-person relations as a way to renew the two country’s shared history which spans more than 2,000 years.

In his address to the Japanese parliament, Wen mentioned acts of great humanity between the two peoples despite the terrible carnage of World War Two, recounting for instance the more than 5,000 Japanese orphans who were adopted by Chinese families after the war.

His speech was interrupted several times by applause and Mr Wen was given a standing ovation at the end of his address.

“We have differences. But these differences are relatively insignificant when compared with our common interests,” he said. But China's stance on history was “not to continue the hatred but [rather] build a better future.”

Even though the aim of his trip was to 'melt the ice',” not “all problems have been solved. We need more time,” he said.

He reminded Japanese lawmakers of the suffering the Chinese people endured under Japanese occupation, expressing hope that the Japanese government would follow up its apologies with concrete action.

Outside small groups of activists protested outside Wen’s hotel against the persecution of the Uighurs, Falun Gong and Tibet as well as China’s violations of human rights.

In the end both governments are interested in improving relations. Japan especially needs China if it wants to get a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

In a meeting with the Japan Business Federation, Wen urged Japanese investors to have more faith in China and increase investments, promising better protection of intellectual property rights.

Following anti-Japanese protests in the spring 2005, Japanese investment on the mainland cooled by 30 per cent from US$ 6.5 billion in 2005 to US .6 billion last year. But for Tokyo China’s domestic market of 1.3 billion people and its low-wage workforce remain highly attractive.

Wen and his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also discussed energy, more specifically the gas fields in the East China Sea which China has partially started to explore. To pre-empt any possible criticism Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said that China was exploring in Chinese territorial waters, “a natural exercise of our legitimate sovereign rights and interests.”

The two countries also renewed military co-operation. Wen and Abe confirmed that Chinese Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan would visit Japan in the autumn, and that the two navies would pay reciprocal ship visits. The two sides will also quicken progress on an emergency hotline to help prevent misunderstandings and accidents at sea.

Still China is concerned over the deepening military alliance between Japan and the US, which includes the Taiwan Strait as part of their common strategic goals in Asia, whilst Japan acknowledges deep concerns over China's ballooning defence budget, and wants to place its own ‘self-defence force’ on a more normal military footing.

With this in mind Mr Abe wants to revise Japan's pacifist constitution. A bill to that effect has come before the lower house today.

In a first step towards revising the country’s post-war pacifist charter, parliament is discussing a law that would require a national referendum to approve constitutional changes. (PB)

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