By A T. Cheng and K Yamamura, Bloomberg
Tokyo: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will discuss improved ties, and environmental and energy issues today as Wen becomes China’s first leader to visit Japan in almost seven years.
Abe, 52, will host a meeting with Wen this afternoon, after which they’ll sign an agreement to cooperate on fighting global warming. China today lifted its four-year ban on Japan’s rice imports, paving the way for shipments to resume in July.
The trip by Wen, 64, comes six months after Abe went to Beijing to mend ties frayed by predecessor Junichiro Koizumi. Trade between Asia’s two biggest economies has almost quadrupled in the last 10 years and the two countries are working together to persuade North Korea to shut its atomic weapons program.
“There’s a lot to be included, so I’m not sure what form the joint statement will take,” Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters in Tokyo yesterday. “We’re still filling in the details.”
The statement may include a commitment from China to participate in negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 2013, after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol expires, a Japanese foreign ministry official said on 9 April. The two countries are also studying authorizing an airplane route between Tokyo’s Haneda and China’s Shanghai airports, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said yesterday.
Japanese agriculture minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka and Chinese quarantine minister Li Changjiang signed the rice agreement earlier today in Tokyo.
In addition to today’s agreement, Wen tomorrow will become the third Chinese premier to address parliament. He will then have an audience with Emperor Akihito before taking part in economic and political discussions with Japanese leaders. The day after, he will travel to the ancient capital of Kyoto.
His trip comes after months of diplomatic negotiations to mend fences amid disagreements over the legacy of war and distrust between China and Japan. Koizumi’s repeated visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine, where World War II war criminals are among those memorialized, antagonized Beijing’s leaders even as economic ties expanded.
“Premier Wen’s visit to Japan is very important,” Qin Gang, foreign ministry spokesman, said in a regular briefing on 3 April in Beijing. “The visit is meant to help push for further progress and development of ties between our two nations.”
There are still issues of contention. China and Japan are at odds over development rights to a natural gas field in the East China Sea. And Abe’s denials that Japan’s army forcibly recruited as many as 200,000 women into sexual slavery during World War II may have caused Wen to shorten his trip to three days from five and add yesterday’s stop in Seoul.
“It was very hard for Premier Wen to stick to the original plan of visiting only Japan given the comments Abe made on the comfort women issue,” Kenneth Lieberthal, former senior director for Asia at the US National Security Council and a professor at the University of Michigan.
Japan doesn’t expect Wen to officially raise the sex slave issue, a senior official at Japan’s embassy in Beijing said, requesting that he not be identified by name. Abe won’t mention it unless Wen brings it up, he said.
Abe said on 27 March that he hopes Wen’s visit provides the opportunity to build a “strategic” relationship, using the same term the Chinese premier used last month in describing his goal for the summit.
Including Hong Kong, China is Japan’s No. 1 trading partner with total trade exceeding $249 billion last year, up from $64 billion in 1997, according to the Japan External Trade Organization, known as Jetro. Japan is now China’s third largest trade partner, after the EU and US.
China will offer to assist in resolving the issue of North Korea’s kidnapping of Japanese three decades ago, the Yomiuri newspaper reported yesterday, citing a draft of the joint agreement. Japan refuses to give energy aid to the communist country as part of an agreement aimed at dismantling its nuclear weapons program, without a resolution to the abduction issue.