New York: Japan’s new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama made his global debut on Monday with a message of reconciliation to China, asking President Hu Jintao to work together for an EU-style East Asian community.
Less than a week into office, Japan’s new center-left leader flew to New York for the UN General Assembly. He plans to meet world leaders here and at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh.
Hatoyama, who advocates an easing of Japan’s long prickly ties with its giant neighbor, told Jintao that he intends to push a vision of an East Asian community to unify the region, possibly under a single currency.
“I told (Hu) that I would like to form an East Asian community by overcoming differences,” including a dispute over exploitation rights for gas fields lying near islands the two countries claim in the East China Sea, Hatoyama told reporters.
Jintao stopped short of agreeing to the proposal but said he wants to “make it a peaceful and friendly sea” by tackling sticking points, a Japanese government official said.
Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan ended more than half a century of almost unbroken conservative rule in a sweeping election victory last month.
While few expect East Asia to immediately overcome wartime memories and create an Asian Union, his tone marked an unmistakable sign from Japan’s new leader that he wants to work with, rather than against, a rising China.
Hatoyama said he would follow a landmark statement of apology for Japan’s wartime aggression which was issued in 1995 by then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama—one of the few other left-leaning leaders in modern Japan.
“I highly praise your stance of sticking to the Murayama statement over the recognition of past history,” Jintao told Hatoyama, acccording to the Japanese official.
Hatoyama has recently proposed to build a new state memorial to serve as an alternative focus to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors war dead but also 14 convicted war criminals and is often seen as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
Hatoyama also plans to meet South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak in New York on Wednesday ahead of a planned three-way summit of Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo next month.
During the meeting, Jintao welcomed Hatoyama’s pledge to dramatically step up Japan’s commitment to fighting climate change by pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from 1990 levels by 2020.
Hatoyama is expected at a special UN climate summit on Tuesday to also offer help to poor countries to combat climate change.
Chinese officials have also indicated that they expect a strong statement from Jintao to break a diplomatic logjam in climate negotiations.
The Japanese official said Jintao told Hatoyama that China will “also make an effort to achieve success” at a December meeeting in Copenhagen meant to seal a post-Kyoto treaty.
Relations between Japan and China plunged to modern lows during the 2001-2006 premiership of Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who annually visited the Yasukuni shrine and sought a greater global role for Japan.
But some analysts predict that hiccups in relations will remain under Hatoyama, who has called for Japan to be more outspoken on human rights including Tibet, where China sent troops in 1950 and last year clamped down on protests.
The Japanese official said Jintao told Hatoyama, “I would like you to understand the Tibet issue.”
Hatoyama replied: “Basically, we regard it as a domestic issue, but I hope this will be resolved through dialogue.”