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Japan and China will probably agree next month to designate 2002 as a year of increased bilateral exchanges to commemorate the 30th anniversary of normalizing diplomatic relations, government sources said Thursday.

The agreement is likely to be reached at a meeting in Tokyo between Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and his Chinese counterpart, Zhu Rongji, the sources said. The Chinese premier will make a six-day official visit to Japan beginning Oct. 12, his first since taking the post in early 1998.

The motivation for the proposal is apparently a desire to usher in the new century by putting often shaky bilateral ties on a more stable footing through increased friendship and cooperation. Keeping ties between the two Asian powers stable is seen as a key to ensuring peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

Japan will designate 2002 “China Year,” while China will designate it “Japan Year,” the sources said. The two countries will hold various events to promote their cultures, economies and trade throughout the year, the sources said.

If Mori and Zhu agree on the proposal next month, the two countries will then begin discussions to hammer out the program’s details.

2002 is also expected to be a breakthrough year between Japan and South Korea as the two neighbors are set to cohost soccer’s World Cup.

As for China-Japan ties, in 1992 the Emperor made a historic visit to Beijing to commemorate the 20th anniversary of normalized ties.

Since their normalization in 1972, Sino-Japanese relations have developed relatively smoothly. Personnel and cultural exchanges have grown sharply, and trade has jumped to about $60 billion from only $1.1 billion.

Development of bilateral ties has accelerated since the late ’70s, when the giant communist country began to open itself to the outside world and introduce free-market reforms under the behest of the late leader Deng Xiaoping.

Zhu’s visit in mid-October will come at a time when Sino-Japanese relations have plunged to their lowest ebb since then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi visited Beijing in July 1999.

Points of contention between the two countries include recent activities of Chinese naval and research ships in waters around Japan and China’s continued sharp increases in military spending.

Angered by these issues, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had delayed approving a 17.2 billion yen yen-loan package for China until after Foreign Minister Yohei Kono’s trip to Beijing in late August. The government initially wanted to have an agreement on the loan package signed during Kono’s Beijing visit.

Japan is also reviewing its hitherto generous aid policy toward China, a process that should be completed by the end of the year.

Public opinion in Japan toward China has also been deteriorating since the June 1989 suppression of prodemocracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Kono and his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, agreed at a Beijing meeting in late August to create a framework requiring each nation to give advance notice when their research vessels plan to enter each other’s economic waters. But details of the framework, including the scope of maritime activities subject to notification, have yet to be worked out.

In a meeting with Mori in New York during the U.N. Millennium Summit early this month, Chinese President Jiang Zemin expressed confidence that Japan and China “can resolve differences through dialogue” and said he believes that Premier Zhu’s visit to Japan will “further boost our partnership.”

But Premier Zhu’s upcoming visit alone appears unlikely to turn around the deteriorating atmosphere surrounding bilateral ties.

One government source acknowledged in a rather frank tone, “I am afraid that even if the governments of Japan and China designate 2002 a year of promoting friendship and cooperation through various exchanges, the Japanese public may not become very enthusiastic about doing it.”

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