Thu, May 25, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Japanese, Chinese ministers meet

NOT QUITE FRIENDS Talks were cordial, but observers noted that suspicion between the two countries runs deep and economics is still their primary shared interest

AFP , DOHA

The Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers have held their first talks for more than a year at a forum in Qatar, although Japan's militarist past remained the major hurdle to improving bilateral ties.

"Nice to see you again," Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said to China's Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) as the pair shook hands on Tuesday ahead of a 90-minute meeting on the sidelines of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue in Doha.

The two appeared to chat and joke with one another before going into their closed-door meeting, and afterwards the Chinese side said the pair had agreed the two nations should work together to resolve their differences.

"[China and Japan] should strengthen the strategic dialogue between them and work together to remove the political obstacle to their relations," Wang Donghua (王東華), a spokesman for the Chinese delegation, told reporters.

But Li also made clear during the meeting that the key obstacle to improving relations between the nations was Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni war shrine, which honors Japanese war criminals among others.

"The repeated visits by the Japanese leader to the Yasukuni shrine, which commemorates class-A criminals of World War II, seriously offends the sentiments of the Chinese people and violates the political foundation of bilateral relations," Li told Aso, according to the Chinese spokesman.

China's official news agency in Beijing quoted Li as saying of the shrine visits: "It is imperative to remove such an obstacle to improving and developing bilateral ties."

Nevertheless, the pair agreed that Beijing and Tokyo should "deepen" economic and trade links, according to Wang.

They also agreed the two nations should explore potential "cooperation on energy conservation and environmental protection" and "expand their common interests and ... friendly exchanges between their two peoples," he said.

Wang said agreement was also reached on continuing to "conduct a security dialogue at the level of vice foreign ministers as well as military-to-military exchanges to increase mutual trust."

There was no immediate comment from the Japanese side on the meeting.

However, according to the Chinese spokesman, Aso underlined Tokyo's desire to develop friendly relations "on the basis of the principles enshrined in the three political documents between the two countries."

On Taiwan, Aso said the Japanese government "would continue to honor the one-China principle," Wang reported.

Asked whether the two foreign ministers would meet again, Wang said this would be determined "through diplomatic channels".

China and Japan are divided not just by history but also by a heated row over lucrative gas and oil fields in the East China Sea. The two nations failed to make a breakthrough in new talks on the issue earlier this month.

However, Japan's Jiji news agency reported Li and Aso had agreed that fresh negotiations would be held on the issue on June 12 and 13 in Tokyo.

China called off all top-level talks with Japan after Koizumi made his latest visit to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead and 14 top war criminals, in October last year.

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