02/15/2007, 00.00
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Tokyo and Beijing start talking again

Chinese Foreign Minister starts a visit in Tokyo today, the first official visit since relations deteriorated last year. North Korea’s nuclear programme and the East China Sea are on the table. Both parties are preparing Wen Jiabao’s April visit.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing arrived in Tokyo today for a three-day visit in what is touted as the highest-level meeting by Chinese and Japanese officials since the two countries began repairing tense relations last year.

At the start, Mr Li is set to meet with Lower House speaker Yohei Kono and leaders from the New Komeito Party, a coalition partner of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party. The foreign minister would meet Mr Abe and his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso tomorrow.

The prime purpose is to lay the groundwork for a visit by Chinese Prime Minister Wen next April and discussions about issues of mutual concern like North Korea’s nuclear programme.

In the six-nations talks North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear programme in exchange for oil, but Tokyo has taken a hard-line against Pyongyang and rejects any deal since the North Koreans are still holding Japanese nationals they abducted.

While moving closer, the two Asian powers are also at odds over rival claims for natural resources, especially energy, in the East China Sea.

Earlier this month, Japan protested that a Chinese ship carried out surveillance in what Tokyo considers its waters in the East China Sea. China shot back, warning Japan against "sensationalising" research activities.

Japan's relations with China and South Korea were badly strained between 2001 and 2006, primarily over former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to the Yasukuni shrine dedicated to Japan’s war dead. Some Japanese war criminals are buried there.

Despite Koizumi’s claim that such visits were private, China and South Korea saw them as glorifying Japan’s military past, including its invasions of other countries.

Abe, who took over from Koizumi in September of last year, has apparently never visited that temple. By contrast, he has already visited Beijing and Seoul and has renewed ties with the two neighbours.

Despite frictions, China is Japan’s main trading partner, and in recent months Beijing has undertaken intense diplomatic activity, especially in Asia.

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