Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) is expected to arrive in Japan tomorrow for the first visit by a Chinese head of state in a decade, in a sign of steady reconciliation between the Asian giants despite lingering disputes.
Hu will spend five days in Japan, during which he is expected to go on a diplomatic charm offensive — playing ping-pong, chatting with students and touring temples.
Japan, which counts on commerce with its fast-growing neighbor as a key driver of its economic recovery, has been preparing for months for Hu’s visit — only the second ever by a Chinese president.
“I hope to have candid talks on how Japan and China can cooperate in a wide range of fields, which are not limited to bilateral relations but also include the peace and security of this region,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said on Friday.
In a sign of just how important the visit is for Japan, Emperor Akihito, who limits public appearances, is scheduled to see Hu three times during his stay.
Hu, who yesterday gave an interview with Japanese media in Beijing, was quoted by Jiji Press as saying: “I don’t want to see a number of discrepancies and problems to occur.”
“Speaking frankly is most important,” he said.
Japan and China have uneasy ties dating back to the legacy of Japanese aggression before World War II and several thorny issues remain on the agenda.
They failed in marathon talks to achieve their goal of resolving one of the most difficult disagreements before the summit — a territorial feud over lucrative gas fields in the East China Sea.
“Through joint efforts, I believe we will find a plan acceptable for both sides and surely be able to solve the issue appropriately,” Jiji quoted Hu as saying.
Hu’s visit also comes in the wake of a row over poisoned Chinese-made dumplings that sickened Japanese consumers and an international uproar over China’s crackdown on protests against its rule in Tibet.
Japan has voiced concern over the situation in the Himalayan region and pro-Tibet demonstrators say they are planning to protest during Hu’s visit, his first overseas trip since the unrest broke out in March.
But analysts say the visit is more about symbolism than taking up disputes, with both countries believing that neither stands to benefit from high tension.
“Neither Japan or China can afford to make this visit a failure because China is hosting the Beijing Olympics and Japan is hosting the Group of Eight summit” in July, said Satoru Miyamoto, a Northeast Asia specialist at the Japan Institute of International Affairs.
“Cooperation on climate change, which is important for the success of the G8 summit, is one of few practical achievements we can expect during Hu’s visit,” Miyamoto said.
Fukuda, who visited China in December, is likely hoping that the summit will boost his popularity, which has recently sunk to fresh lows over domestic issues.
Fukuda is a longstanding champion of reconciliation with China.