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Visiting Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji said Saturday that ties between China and Japan are crucial to peace and security in northeast Asia, according to Japanese government officials.

Zhu met with leaders of Japanese political parties, including Hiromu Nonaka, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, in a series of meetings at the State Guesthouse in Tokyo.

In response to a comment by Nonaka that peace and security in northeast Asia are important, Zhu was quoted as saying, “Ties between China and Japan are the most important for that.”

The two agreed to strengthen ties between the two countries, the officials said.

“Friendship, amity and exchanges between people will contribute greatly to friendship between the two countries,” the Chinese premier said, according to the officials.

Nonaka responded by saying, “Although there may be small disagreements between our countries, as we are very close neighbors, we hope to deepen our friendship by keeping a dialogue open.”

During a meeting with New Komeito party leader Takenori Kanzaki, Zhu praised South Korean President Kim Dae Jung for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

“President Kim’s contribution to the relaxation of tension and to moves toward reunification and reconciliation is great,” he said. “I hope the situation on the Korean Peninsula will maintain its current momentum and that we will see peaceful unification in the future.”

In another meeting, Zhu and Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition party, discussed Taiwan.

Hatoyama told the Chinese premier that he favored neither Taiwan’s unilateral independence, nor China’s use of force against Taiwan.

“With that as a premise, we would like the two sides to foster trust between each other and make efforts to solve their problems,” he said.

According to officials, Zhu responded by saying, “We would like to solve the issue peacefully with the utmost discretion. However, we cannot unconditionally postpone a resolution.”

Zhu invited Hatoyama to visit China, and Hatoyama said he would like to make the trip later this year.

Business urged to play part

The Chinese premier also called on Japanese business leaders to participate in the development program for China’s western inland regions in an effort to build a closer relationship between the two nation.

Attending a luncheon meeting organized by six major Japanese economic organizations, Zhu said Japanese companies can cooperate on the project by providing technologies for preservation of the environment, civil engineering to build infrastructure and direct investments to develop the economy in the regions.

Zhu said the project will offer Japanese companies opportunities to expand their businesses in China, adding that China plans to construct infrastructure in the interior over the next five to 10 years.

The development program is designed to narrow the economic disparity between China’s developed eastern coastal areas and western inland regions as a key part of the nation’s economic development for next century.

Zhu also said that China will further improve the environment for foreign investments and arrange appropriate legal systems as China prepares to enter the World Trade Organization.

Takashi Imai, chairman of the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren), said the Japanese business community will consider ways to cooperate in the development program for China’s interior.

As part of its efforts to preserve the environment in the regions, Japanese companies will start afforestation work there next spring, he said.

To further enhance economic cooperation by the private sector in Japan, China can promote deregulation and improve its legal and tax systems and the environment for foreign investment, Imai said.

“To secure Japanese companies’ stable operations in China, we would like (the Chinese government) to allow Japanese insurance firms to enter the Chinese market,” he said.

In addition, Imai said the Japanese business community hopes to have foreign businesses clubs as places to discuss business issues with Chinese government officials not only in Beijing but also in other major cities like Shanghai.

Regarding China’s plan to build a high-speed railway linking Beijing and Shanghai, Imai recommended Japan’s bullet train system as the best choice. China has France, Germany and Japan compete for a contract for the railway.

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