Ping-Pong, pandas mark Chinese president's visit to Japan

Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Tokyo Tuesday for a visit aimed at smoothing China-Japan relations, strained by disputes over territory, resources and wartime history.
Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Tokyo Tuesday for a visit aimed at smoothing China-Japan relations, strained by disputes over territory, resources and wartime history.
Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, left, head to a dinner on Tuesday. ((Associated Press))

Hu was met at the airport by Japanese officials and groups of people waving flags.

"We stand at a new starting point," said Hu, the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Japan in a decade.

"Relations between the two countries now have new opportunities for further development," he said in a written statement. "I hope through this visit to increase mutual trust and strengthen friendship."

Hu spent Tuesday night having dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. He will meet with Emperor Akihito on Wednesday, followed by talks with Japanese business leaders and the heads of Japan's main political parties.

In a gesture aimed at shoring up friendship between the two Asian superpowers, Hu offered Akihito a loan of two pandas for research purposes, Japanese media reports said. The Tokyo zoo recently lost a popular, 22-year-old giant panda, named Ling Ling, which died last week of heart failure.

The two leaders were also expected to play a friendly game of table tennis.

Tokyo protests

The five-day visit is intended to build relations chilled by years of friction over the issue of Taiwan independence; Japan's treatment of its wartime invasion of China; anti-Japanese protests in China; and general Japanese unease over Beijing's rapidly growing diplomatic, military and economic power.
A Japanese demonstrator holds a 'Stop Hu Jintao' poster next to another carrying a portrait of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, during a rally in Tokyo Tuesday. ((Itsuo Inouye/Associated Press))

Several hundred demonstrators marched through downtown Tokyo Tuesday, chanting "Human rights for Tibet." About 7,000 police were deployed to the city streets in case the protests turned violent. There were no reports of arrests, but protesters scuffled with police outside the French restaurant where Hu and Fukuda dined Tuesday night.

Hu said he hopes the visit will project China as a friendly, good neighbour after weeks of protests over Tibet and human rights issues that have accompanied the worldwide Olympic torch relay leading up to the Beijing Games in August.

There are a number of other sore points between the two countries.

Japan wants more transparency on China's military spending while China has urged Tokyo to make clear its stance on Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a breakaway part of China. Japan has said it supports a "one China" policy that includes Taiwan.

Beijing and Tokyo are also squabbling over rights to gas stores under the East China Sea. 

Joint pledge

The two leaders are expected to produce a joint document Wednesday outlining plans for managing their future relations.

The document is also expected to contain a pledge to take part in United Nations-led talks on climate change and examine ways to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050.

Relations between the two countries were tested following former Chinese president Jiang Zemin's 1998 visit — the first time a Chinese leader had been to Japan since the end of the Second World War. Zemin delivered a number of speeches on Japan's wartime atrocities.

In 2005, former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi sparked outrage in China by visiting a controversial shrine that pays homage to Japan's war dead, including more than two dozen convicted war criminals.

But both countries have good reason to keep cordial relations.

Economic ties between the two have thrived, with Japanese businesses profiting from the huge new market China offers. Trade reached $237 billion US last year, according to Chinese statistics. 

With files from the Associated Press