Beijing embraces Fukuda

Taiwan referendum criticized; gas dispute lingers

by Kaho Shimizu

Taiwan

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Chinese President Hu Jintao takes Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's hand as he escorts the Japanese leader to their meeting venue Friday at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. KYODO PHOTO
During his talks with Fukuda, Hu demonstrated his willingness to raise Sino-Japanese cooperative ties to a new level, officials said.Fukuda responded that he wants to develop a relationship of strategic reciprocity between the two countries.On current bilateral relations, Hu said they are in good shape, stressing the need to appropriately deal with issues between the two countries based on a spirit that reflects history and moves forward, according to the officials.
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Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is welcomed by students at Peking University, where he delivered a speech Friday afternoon. POOL PHOTO/KYODO
Earlier in the day, Fukuda and Wen agreed that the two nations should promote environmental cooperation, expand exchanges and resolve their dispute over gas fields in the East China Sea as quickly as possible.Fukuda also said he would not support a planned referendum in Taiwan on seeking United Nations membership "if it leads – to take unilateral action to change the status quo” in cross-strait relations.

Fukuda’s visit follows the “ice-breaking trip” to China by his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, in October 2006 and Wen’s “ice-thawing visit” to Japan in April.

Describing the two nations’ relations, Fukuda said “spring has come.”

“Japan and China are now facing a big opportunity and responsibility. I’d like to have the two countries working together while seeing things in perspective for the creation of the future of Asia and the world,” Fukuda said at the start of the meeting with Wen.

“I think we have already built a good relationship. Now, the two countries’ relations have entered an important stage for further improvement and development,” Wen said in response to Fukuda’s remarks.

After the meeting, the two governments signed three documents, including a cooperation agreement on environmental and energy technologies and exchanges of personnel.

Japan promised to set up environment-information facilities in China to share its expertise in environmental technologies with Chinese companies and to provide training programs for 10,000 Chinese in three years from 2008.

The agreement on environmental issues is an indication of Japan’s shift in the area of development assistance from funding to cooperation. Japan is terminating official development assistance to the communist country in fiscal 2007.

China is beset with climate change, water pollution and other environmental problems as it undergoes rapid economic growth.

Fukuda wants to use Japan’s cutting-edge environmental and energy-saving technologies to strengthen ties with China so that Tokyo, as host of next year’s Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido, can persuade Beijing to join international efforts to curb global warming ahead of the summit.

After emerging from the two-hour meeting in the Great Hall of the People, Fukuda and Wen held a joint news conference, believed to be the first held together by the leaders of the two Asian powers.

During the briefing, Fukuda vowed never to allow the relationship between the two nations to be damaged.

“We have only one direction to pursue for Japan-China relations . . . to further reinforce ties,” Fukuda told reporters. “Japan and China have various problems between us but we must seek ways to overcome those challenges,” he said, adding that the two countries’ relationship is no longer limited to a bilateral one.

He repeatedly said the two nations must strengthen ties by seeing things from a global perspective.

Fukuda said he wants to see a huge leap forward in Sino-Japanese relations in 2008 to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1978 signing of the Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty.

The two governments agreed Friday on a youth exchange program starting next year in which Japan will send 1,200 people annually to China while 2,750 Chinese will visit Japan.

Wen also said Fukuda assured him that Japan will not support Taiwan’s move to hold a referendum during the presidential election in March on whether to seek U.N. membership.

China wants to smother any effort to promote an independence campaign in Taiwan.

“Today, Fukuda said Japan will not support Taiwan’s attempt to seek U.N. membership. His stance must be highly evaluated,” Wen told the news conference.

While noting that Japan’s position will remain unchanged that it wants both China and Taiwan to peacefully resolve their differences through dialogue, Fukuda said he would not support Taiwan’s referendum if it is something that leads to unilateral moves by the island.

The two sides also agreed to accelerate talks to quickly resolve the issue of gas field exploration in the East China Sea.

Tokyo and Beijing have long remained far apart on the location of agreed joint development amid stalled senior working-level negotiations.

Both Fukuda and Wen said they have made “progress” in resolving the dispute. A senior government official who was present at the meeting declined comment on details, saying the negotiations are still ongoing.

Hu is expected to visit Japan in April, becoming the first Chinese president to do so in a decade, and both Tokyo and Beijing are hoping to reach an accord by then while there is momentum.

Although Fukuda chose the U.S., not China, for his first official overseas trip after taking office in September, the “pro-China” politician’s hastily arranged visit earned China’s warmest welcome.

The last-minute scheduling was the result of a Diet deadlock over a bill to resume the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. But the Chinese worked hard to accommodate Japan’s requests in arranging meetings with Chinese leaders, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official.