China’s foreign minister wraps up ‘diplomatic’ visit to Osaka, Nara


Politics was off the menu as Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi wrapped up his visit to Japan over the weekend with dinner Saturday in Osaka and lunch Sunday in the ancient capital of Nara.

Yang’s Nara visit began early Sunday at Horyuji Temple, the world’s oldest surviving wooden structure, which was built more than 1,300 years ago and is now on the World Heritage List. He also visited Toshodaiji Temple, founded in 759 by Ganjin, a Chinese Buddhist priest who was invited to Japan to train Japanese monks.

“The minister arrived in Japan and had to deal with a variety of diplomatic issues, but he was able to come here to Nara to explore the cultural and historical side of China’s relationship with Japan,” said Nara Gov. Shogo Arai, after greeting Yang just before a lunch with Nara business and government officials and members of a local China-Japan friendship association.

The governor said that neither he nor Yang mentioned Tibet or the defacing of Zenkokuji Temple in Nagano with graffiti, which came two days after the temple refused to serve as the starting point for next Saturday’s Olympic torch relay due to safety concerns and out of sympathy for Buddhists in Tibet.

On Saturday evening, Yang was feted by Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto and the Kansai business community. Hashimoto kept clear of any references to Tibet, or the decision by Japan to refuse Chinese security officers in Nagano to guard the torch relay.

Hashimoto told Yang that China has been high on his agenda since he became governor in February, meeting numerous Chinese officials and traveling to Shanghai, where Osaka Prefecture, despite its financial crisis, is expected to participate in the World Expo in 2010.

“I drank so much in Shanghai, I got drunk and had to participate in a number of events in that condition,” Hashimoto jokingly told Yang.

Hashimoto also formally requested that President Hu Jintao, who is scheduled to visit Japan next month, come to Osaka. Yang responded by saying he wanted to bring Hu.

Nara’s Arai made a similar request Sunday and said after Yang had departed that it was highly possible Hu would come to Nara as well.

Yang’s visit to Osaka and Nara came as China’s trade with the Kansai region has boomed over the past decade, from about ¥2.6 trillion in 1997 to more than ¥7 trillion last year. China is the top destination for Kansai’s exports and the region imports more from China than any other country, according to the trade ministry’s Kinki bureau.