05/06/2008, 00.00
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President Hu is in Tokyo, another step in a long journey

It is the first visit of a Chinese president in 10 years, and Hu's first trip abroad since the repression in Tibet. In five days, there is a packed agenda of meetings and issues: trade, military spending, cooperation, international security, contested gas reserves, food safety, but also human rights and Tibet.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Chinese president Hu Jintao is in Tokyo for a 5-day visit.  With prime minister Yasuo Fukuda, with whom he will speak tomorrow but will meet tonight at an informal dinner, he will discuss trade, security, and rights over gas deposits in the East China Sea, but also military spending and Tibet.  He will also play ping pong.  A meeting is also scheduled with Emperor Akihito, the parliament, and the leaders of the main parties.

It is Hu's first visit abroad after the repression in Tibet in March. He was welcomed in Tokyo by Japanese foreign minister Masahiko Komura and by more than 7,000 policemen, to avoid pro-Tibet demonstrations.  The road to the Haneda airport was closed for the arrival of the presidential airplane.  A thousand demonstrators, including Tibetans and Uyghurs, were permitted to protest in the city centre, far from the Chinese president.

At his departure from Beijing, Hu said he hoped to begin "an everlasting warm spring of friendship" between the two countries.  And to those who remember the many unresolved questions, he replied that "it is inevitable to have some problems and it is normal to have different views during the development of bilateral relations". "What's more important is that the two sides should handle issues with a candid and sincere attitude, conduct friendly exchanges [and] seek common ground while shelving differences". Between 2001 and 2006, Beijing suspended high-level meetings because of the repeated visits of then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi to the Yasukuni temple, where 2.5 million Japanese war dead are honoured, including some war criminals.  But contacts were re-established with Koizumi's successors, and, even if they have not brought great results, the parties have always shown the greatest satisfaction simply with the resumption of talks.

In his turn, Fukuda expects "candid talks on how Japan and China can co-operate in a wide range of fields, which are not limited to bilateral relations but also include the peace and security of this region". And he expressed his desire to find a "replacement" for the panda Ling Ling, given by Beijing decades ago as a sign of friendship.  The animal died last week at the Ueno zoo in Tokyo.  It is evident that the two leading Asian powers want to set aside their past differences and wars, and are looking for significant results.  China needs Japanese technology and investment for its own development, while Japan sees in China a vast market for its products, especially now that exports are dropping in other markets, like the United States.  In 2007, after the resumption of regular high-level relations, China surpassed the U.S. as Japan's main trade partner, with bilateral trade of 236.6 billion dollars, an increase of 12%.  Japan also wants Beijing's support for its bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations security council.

According to many analysts, today both leaders would rather avoid disagreements than reach immediate results: Fukuda is at his lowest level of popularity, and surveys show only 18% agreement with his policies; while the protests all over the world against the Olympic torch, after the repression in Tibet, have raised strong nationalist sentiment in China.

Hu said "I sincerely hope the people of the two countries can maintain friendship generation after generation". In 1998, the visit of his predecessor Jiang Zemin was overshadowed by accusations against Tokyo over the invasion of China in the 1930's, with Jiang berating Japan even in front of the emperor. (PB)

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