China's president Hu Jintao has arrived in Japan for the first visit by a Chinese head of state in 10 years. The five-day visit is aimed at enhancing the bilateral relationship between the two countries. During the talks, the two sides are expected to discuss trade, climate change and a dispute over contested gas fields in the East China Sea.
Chinese President Hu Jintao, second from right, and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, left, inspect the display of Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China, in Tokyo
Ties between China and Japan had been icy for many years. The relations hit an all-time low in 2005 after the then Japanese premier Junichiro Koizumi paid visits to the Yasukini shrine in Tokyo. The controversial shrine honours Japanese war veterans, including war criminals involved in atrocities in China during the Second World War. In response, Beijing suspended high-level contacts with Tokyo.
But the relations began to warm up again in 2006, when Koizumi’s short term successor Shinzo Abe paid a visit to China. The visit was followed by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s trip to Tokyo last year and a follow-up trip by the new Japanese premier Yasuo Fukuda to Beijing in December.
Shift in Foreign Policy
Frank Umbach, an expert on Asian affairs from the German Society for Foreign Policy in Berlin sees a clear shift in Japanese foreign policy towards China:”Under the leadership of the new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, Japan has inaugurated a pragmatic foreign policy towards China which is largely based on trade and economic interests. He hopes to improve ties with Beijing.”
During the talks, the two sides will discuss a range of bilateral issues, including trade. China is Japan’s top trade partner, with two way trade exceeding more than 230 billion US dollars.
The two sides will issue a joint document on ideas to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
Dispute over Gas fields
They are also likely to raise the issue of disputed gas fields in the waters of the East China Sea, an area claimed by both sides. Since 2006 Beijing and Tokyo have held several rounds of talks on the issue but failed to arrive at a resolution.
And experts doubt if the two sides are at all serious about resolving the issue. Axel Berkovsky, an expert from the European Policy Centre in Brussels, is one of them: “Both governments are not prepared to change their stances on the issue of the East China Sea. They have their interpretations about what is Chinese and what is Japanese. I don’t see a solution to this issue any time soon.”
On its part, Japan is likely to raise the issue of security. China’s rising defence budget has caused anxiety in Tokyo and many radical Japanese politicians see China as a threat.
However despite these disputes, Chinese president Hu Jintao has termed the visit a sign of a ‘warm spring’ in relations with Japan. On his arrival to Tokyo he issued a statement saying that the trip will contribute to boosting mutual trust and reinforcing friendship.
Apart from meeting major political and business leaders, Hu’s schedule includes meeting with Japan's Emperor Akihito, a speech to university students in Tokyo and a possible table tennis match with premier Fukuda.