Tokyo: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao urged Japan’s parliament on 12 April not to forget Tokyo’s wartime aggression, even as the two powers mend strained ties and bolster thriving business relations.
Wen, China’s first leader to address the parliament in 22 years, was on a three-day “ice-melting” trip to Japan as the two countries worked to reverse a deterioration in ties caused partly by the two former World War II enemies’ disagreements over the past.
But even as Wen struck a conciliatory note by acknowledging Japan’s postwar apologies and calling for stronger economic ties, a newer dispute over undersea gas and oil deposits threatened to sour the fragile detente.
A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said that Tokyo was concerned over an annual report by CNOOC Ltd., China’s largest offshore oil producer by output, which said it produced 42 barrels of oil and 4 million cubic feet of gas a day in a field between eastern China and Japan’s southern island chain of Okinawa.
The two countries have not demarcated their exclusive economic zones in that area. Japan has objected to China’s exploitation of the gas, saying some belongs to Japan.
Tokyo has asked Chinese officials for confirmation of the CNOOC report, the official said on customary condition of anonymity.
China immediately insisted that the exploration falls within its territory.
“It is a natural exercise of our legitimate sovereign rights and interests,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular briefing. “We hope Japan will have a clear understanding of this point.”
The undersea resource dispute is one of many Wen has tried to smooth over during his visit.
The two countries have also been at odds over Japan’s invasions and occupation of China in the 1930s and ’40s.
Beijing has accused Tokyo of not fully atoning, while some Japanese feel their country’s wrongdoings have been exaggerated.
“To reflect on history is not to dwell on hard feelings but to remember and learn from the past in order to open a better future,” Wen told the Japanese parliamentarians.
However, he said he hoped Japan’s apologies would be “turned into actions”.
Wen’s visit comes amid an improvement in ties that began when Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled to China in October. Bilateral relations plunged to their lowest level in decades during the 2001-06 term of his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi.
Showing unity has been a priority for Wen and Abe this week. On Wednesday, they declared their intentions to move forward on rebuilding relations, signed agreements on energy and the environment, and issued a joint statement on several issues for cooperation.
Wen is also on a mission to woo the Japanese public, going for a jog at a Tokyo park and joining a group doing tai chi.
On Friday, he was set to play baseball with college students in western Japan.
Wen also had an audience with Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace. He invited the monarch to the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, according to court official Yasuo Moriyama.
Akihito said he would consult with his government advisers.
Many of Wen’s activities have been aimed at improving business relations. China, including Hong Kong, is Japan’s No. 1 trading partner, and Beijing is eager to increase Japanese technology transfers and investment in its booming economy.