Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed Wednesday to make 2008 the year for boosting their nations’ “mutually beneficial” relationship, as Tokyo hosted the first Chinese leader to visit in 10 years.

The previous visit, made by Jiang Zemin in 1998, saw Japan criticized for its wartime invasion of China.

In a joint statement issued by Fukuda and Hu, Japan and China agreed simply to “squarely face history and move toward the future.” No specific mention was made of the history issues that have badly strained bilateral ties in recent years.

Later, at a joint news conference, Fukuda said the two nations have made “major progress” in their feud over joint development of a gas field straddling their disputed exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea.

Fukuda said a solution is “now in sight.” The two leaders, however, did not elaborate on the talks and said some “minor details” still need to be hammered out.

“The Japan-China relationship is now undergoing big changes. This time, little about the two major themes of the past Japan-China talks — namely issues related to history and Taiwan — were discussed,” said Ryosei Kokubun, a noted China expert and professor at Keio University in Tokyo.

The outcome suggests both Japan and China have started focusing on their specific national interests, rather than philosophical issues, Kokubun said.

Hu and Fukuda agreed that “long-term cooperation for peace and friendship” is “the only choice” left for the two countries, which have great influence over peace, stability and development in Asia and in the rest of the world, according to the statement.

Fukuda welcomed Hu’s visit and expressed gratitude for his pledge to lend a pair of giant pandas to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo as a symbol of their bilateral friendship. Ling Ling, the last remaining panda owned by Japan, died at the zoo last week.

They also agreed on regular mutual visits by the top leaders of Japan and China. The top leader of one of the two countries will visit the other at least once a year, according to the statement.

Despite efforts to play up their warming ties, the Sino-Japanese relationship faces hurdles.

Over the short term, China needs Japan’s support for the Beijing Olympics, Kokubun said, explaining Hu’s apparent overtures for a stable, friendly relationship.

About 1,000 activists calling for political and religious freedom in Tibet gathered at a hall in Tokyo on Tuesday before Hu arrived for his five-day stay. One of the banners they were carrying read: “Stop killing in Tibet” and “The Genocide Olympics.”

At the outset of the news conference, Fukuda said he hopes that the Beijing Olympic Games will be a great success and that Japan is willing to cooperate to make that happen.

He said he will positively consider attending the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games but said “it is still too early” to make a decision.

Fukuda pointed out at the talks that Hu originally planned to visit “during a season of cherry blossoms” in early April. The Chinese government reportedly delayed Hu’s visit because of the bilateral dispute that erupted over food-poisoning in Japan that was traced to pesticide-tainted dumplings imported from China, and other lingering issues.

At the news conference, Fukuda said he appreciates Hu’s decision to open a dialogue with a delegation from the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He urged China to continue the dialogue to dispel international human-rights concerns over Tibet, where China’s fatal crackdown on riots in March sparked worldwide protests against Beijing.

In the statement, China also pledged to “actively participate” in international negotiations on forming a post-Kyoto Protocol framework for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, an apparent sign that Beijing intends to be more flexible on climate-change issues.

China also expressed appreciation of Japan’s proposal for a sector-by-sector approach to setting greenhouse gas reduction goals, saying it is “a very important measure.”

As the chair of this year’s Group of Eight summit, Japan has been trying hard to forge an international consensus on binding goals to reduce greenhouse gases.

China appears to be eager to secure energy-efficiency technologies from Japan, but how much further Beijing will go beyond the joint statement remains to be seen.

China is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States, and whether Beijing will commit to any emissions-reduction goals has been a focus of international attention.

Japan and China issued a separate statement on environmental cooperation in which China said it will “study methods and measures” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Japanese diplomats say the document indicates a significant policy shift on Beijing’s part, pointing out that China has staunchly opposed setting any reduction targets.

In exchange for China’s general, noncommittal pledge to “study” ways to reduce its emissions, Japan specifically agreed to provide “technological cooperation” to China in a number of areas, including energy-efficiency, improvement of coal-fired power plants, and recollection of methane and carbon dioxide.

“We need to do a followup” to confirm whether China will cooperate in the international fight against climate change as indicated in the statement, a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

On the issue of Taiwan, the joint statement only confirmed that Tokyo will “firmly maintain” its position expressed in the joint communique signed by Japan and China in 1972.

In that communique, Japan stated that it “understands and respects” China’s claims over Taiwan, while approving the mainland government as the only legitimate government of China.

Breakdown of Fukuda-Hu strategic joint statement

Kyodo News

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday agreed to:

* Comprehensively promote strategic, mutually beneficial ties.

* Be cooperative partners that will not be a threat to each other.

* Squarely face history and create a good future.

* Resolve their problems through negotiations.

* Hold regular meetings between the two countries’ leaders, with either visiting the other country at least once a year.

* Make the East China Sea a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.

* Promote the process of six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear problem.

* Actively participate in creating an international framework to tackle climate change from 2013.


* Positively evaluates Japan’s postwar years as a peace nation and its contributions to world peace and stability using peaceful means.

* Places emphasis on Japan’s role in the United Nations.

* Supports Japan and North Korea in resolving matters of concern and normalizing their ties.

* Japan:

* Maintains its stance on the Taiwan issue as stipulated in the 1972 Japan-China Joint Communique.

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