Abe, Li agree to cooperate on N. Korea

by Reiji Yoshida

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed Friday to cooperate closely in their efforts to have North Korea denuclearize as part of the six-party process.

Li, who arrived Thursday in Tokyo for a three-day visit, met with Abe for 45 minutes.

Abe stressed during the meeting the importance of resolving the issue of Japanese abducted to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. In response, Li said Beijing “completely understands” Japan’s position on the abduction issue and would offer as much assistance as it could to help Japan, the ministry said Abe also told Li he hopes the planned visit by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao will be an opportunity to show to the world a new quest to build a “strategic reciprocal relationship,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Abe visited Beijing shortly after becoming prime minister in September, a trip that started an improvement in ties between the two nations.

Bilateral relations had been strained when Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, was in office, due in large part to his annual visits to the contentious Yasukuni Shrine.

Li later met with Foreign Minister Taro Aso and told him this is a sensitive year. 2007 is the 70th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which triggered the Sino-Japanese War, a point Li made at a gathering of Japan-China friendship groups earlier in the day.

Li did not mention any specific history issues, including the contentious Yasukuni Shrine, in the meeting, according to a Japanese official. However, he did say the two countries should try to maintain “the current environment” surrounding history issues between China and Japan, the official said.

Li also expressed concern over reports that Japan and the U.S. plan to cooperate militarily to deal with any crisis in the Taiwan Strait, according to the official.