Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) yesterday visited the sights of Japan’s ancient capital Nara, wrapping up a five-day tour that has seen the traditional rivals commit to closer future ties.
On the final day of his trip, only the second visit ever by a Chinese head of state to Japan, Hu visited the Toshodaiji Temple, a revered Buddhist temple built by Chinese monk Ganjin in 759 when the city was the nation’s capital.
The choice of Nara is seen as a bid to remember times when bilateral relations were amicable, unlike the two countries’ tortured recent history, tainted by Japan’s militarism before and during World War II.
There was, however, open dissent yesterday, with dozens of protesters waving Tibetan flags and chanting “Free Tibet!” in front of the temple when Hu arrived.
But once inside it was an altogether calmer atmosphere as Hu listened to explanations on the temple by a Buddhist monk in a yellow robe, sometimes nodding and smiling.
“President Hu Jintao made a deep bow in front of the altar that enshrines Monk Ganjin,” a steward at the temple, Taichi Ishida, told reporters after Hu left.
“If you look at the old days, you might find a clue as to how we pursue ‘the mutually beneficial strategic partnership,’” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda had said on Thursday at a dinner with Hu, referring to yesterday’s visit to Nara.
“Japan and China are learning together, helping each other, connecting to and contributing to the region and the international community. Such two countries can never be those that seek hierarchy,” Fukuda said.
Hu also visited the Horyuji Temple, the world’s oldest surviving wooden structure, built more than 1,300 years ago, and the remains of an ancient palace.
He is due to visit the headquarters of Japanese electronics maker Matsushita Electric Industrial in Osaka before heading home.
The two leaders on Wednesday agreed to start regular summits to ease decades of tension colored by Japan’s brutal invasion of China, and pledged that Asia’s two largest economies would not see each other as a threat.
During his stay in Japan this week, Hu has not been short on friendly gestures, offering to lend two giant pandas to a Japanese zoo and shedding his jacket and glasses to show off his table tennis prowess.
The Chinese president has repeated conciliatory remarks aimed at improving ties, praising Japan’s “peaceful” role in world affairs and voicing gratitude for Japan’s decades of low-interest loans to China since the end of World War II.
This new spirit of friendship makes a stark contrast to the atmosphere of just a few years ago.
Jiang Zemin (江澤民), the only other Chinese president to come to Japan, publicly berated his hosts during his 1998 visit for not offering a stronger apology over past militarism, foreshadowing a decade of tension between the two countries.
China broke off high-level dialogue with Japan during the 2001-2006 prime ministerial term of Junichiro Koizumi, citing his insistence on visiting the Yasukuni shrine.
Fukuda, a long-time advocate of stronger ties with Asia, has also worked to improve Japan’s relationship with China and is impressed with Hu.