China welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the two Asian giants' first summit in five years, saying yesterday it was a "positive" step toward mending ties clouded by anger over official visits to a Tokyo war shrine and flaring territorial disputes.
Abe and Chinese leaders were also expected to discuss North Korea's threat to conduct a nuclear test, a move which both Beijing and Tokyo have warned would carry serious repercussions.
Abe put the China visit atop his diplomatic agenda because of a deepening rift over former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni shrine. Attempts to arrange the summit assumed added urgency after the North Korean nuclear test announcement last Tuesday.
"This visit is the first by a Japanese prime minister in five years, which represents a positive turn in our relationship," President Hu Jintao (
Abe told reporters in Tokyo before his departure that he wanted to hold "heart-to-heart talks." He pursued that theme after arriving in China, noting to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (
"I believe that our bilateral relations will also enjoy clear skies, and I will work to move our dialogue forward," Abe said following a formal welcome ceremony off Tiananmen Square.
The hastily arranged visit was the first summit between China and Japan since Koizumi met Jiang Zemin (
The visits are aimed not at specific agreements but at simply increasing bilateral trust.
"Abe's visit cannot resolve all the problems in bilateral ties as they are complicated and protracted," Xinhua news agency quoted Xu Dunxin (
North Korea's possible nuclear test has added a new dimension to the visit, however, giving Beijing and Tokyo a chance to find common ground but also placing China, Pyongyang's closest ally, in a difficult spot.
Abe had vowed not to say whether he, too, would pay homage at the Yasukuni war shrine and was not expected to make concessions on Tokyo's long-standing territorial claims.
The People's Daily, the ruling Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper, noted approvingly that Abe had sought to cool passions over the shrine.
"Since becoming prime minister, Abe said he didn't want a public argument on this issue ... and hoped that it would not become a political and diplomatic issue," it said in a commentary.
Japanese and Korean media reported that Abe had made a secret deal with Beijing not to visit the shrine, but government officials strongly denied that.
Abe has visited the shrine before and supported Koizumi's visitsbut refuses to make his future plans clear.