Seize the chance, Wen urges Fukuda
Greg Torode Chief Asia correspondent, in Singapore
Ties have reached important turning point, premier tells his Japanese counterpart
Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday urged his new Japanese counterpart, Yasuo Fukuda, to seize the opportunities presented by warming ties between the two nations, saying relations were at an 'important turning point'.
His comments came during the first meeting between Mr Wen and Mr Fukuda, who replaced Shinzo Abe as prime minister in late September. Mr Fukuda took office vowing to implement his long-stated goal of improving Japan's relations with China, building on the work of Mr Abe, who sought to thaw the freeze that developed under his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi.
Officials on both sides said Mr Wen expressed hopes that an upcoming visit by Mr Fukuda to Beijing and a visit to Tokyo by President Hu Jintao next spring would boost the steady development of ties.
'I hope we will make concerted efforts and grasp this opportunity to push forward the continuous development of bilateral ties,' Mr Wen said. He remarked that Mr Fukuda had telephoned him soon after becoming prime minister, saying this showed the importance Mr Fukuda attached to Sino-Japanese relations.
The pair spoke for more than 90 minutes during a hectic day of East Asian diplomacy of the fringes of the Asean leaders summit in Singapore.
They met formally before heading laughing and smiling to lunch to continue talks in what diplomats on both sides said was an unusual move given the previously stiff relationship between leaders.
'Mr Fukuda made it clear that he was pleased Japan and China were now working together,' Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Matsuo Sakaba said. 'He welcomed the positive developments in recent times and made a commitment to developing the relationship.'
Specifically, the two set the date of the first Sino-Japanese Economic Dialogue, which will take place on December 1 and 2 in Beijing and involve high ranking economic, finance and industrial officials on both sides.
'We expect much from this dialogue,' Mr Sakaba said.
Mr Wen was quoted by a Japanese official as saying: 'I hope we will achieve successful results in the economic dialogue.
'Having such a dialogue just ahead of Prime Minister Fukuda's visit to China carries significance.'
But no breakthroughs were made on setting a date for Mr Fukuda's trip, with the Japanese side keen for progress on the East China Sea dispute. Working-level talks in Tokyo last week failed to finalise a deal to jointly exploit gas deposits.
Kyodo quoted Mr Fukuda saying he hoped Mr Wen would exercise his leadership to settle the dispute, implicitly repeating Japan's call for Beijing to make a 'political decision' soon so the two sides could achieve some kind of progress before his visit - scheduled to be next month or early next year - to China.
Officials from both sides said Mr Wen acknowledged that the issue was 'sensitive' but agreed with Mr Fukuda to 'accelerate the dialogue process to appropriately resolve' their differences over how to jointly develop the area.
Mr Fukuda also said he hoped to soon send ships from Japan's Self Defence Forces to China, noting the arrival in Japan later this month of a Chinese naval vessel.
The pair met separately and together in formal talks with outgoing South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to examine the effort to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Mr Wen also raised the issue of Taiwan at the meeting.
Mr Wen will today address the annual Asean East Asian Summit, an event that links the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations members with China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.