PLA warship carries message of peace on historic visit to Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2007, 12:00am

The guided missile destroyer Shenzhen became the first Chinese People's Liberation Army warship to visit Japan when it docked at Tokyo's Harumi wharf yesterday morning.

The symbolic four-day visit is designed to underline improving ties between Tokyo and Beijing since Yasuo Fukuda was named Japanese prime minister two months ago, although it will take more than courtesy visits to cut through decades of distrust built up between these two Asian powers.

'We have been looking forward to your visit, which opens up a new page in the history of Sino-Japanese military exchanges,' Eiji Yoshikawa, the head of Japanese naval operations, said in a dockside address.

Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai responded by saying: 'Shenzhen is a messenger of peace and friendship. It wants to relay the hopes of a harmonious Asia and a harmonious world.

'This visit will inject new vigour and impetus into the development of bilateral ties.'

The deputy chief of staff of the PLA Navy's South China Sea Fleet, Rear Admiral Xiao Xinnian, who commanded the Shenzhen, told his Japanese counterparts his ship brought not only 345 officers and crew, but the friendship of 1.3 billion Chinese.

The Luhai-class warship was welcomed by a Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force band and dozens of Chinese schoolchildren and residents of Japan, bearing banners and waving flags. A dragon dance was also performed as part of the welcoming ceremony.

The Chinese vessel was accompanied beneath Tokyo Bay's Rainbow Bridge by the Japanese destroyer Ikazuchi and tight security was in evidence, with police patrolling the perimeter to the dockyard and special security units operating aboard inflatable craft.

A contingent of right-wing activists played wartime-era music and Japanese marching songs from a nearby bridge, although their numbers were not sufficient to cause security concerns.

Their sentiments, however, are not entirely out of tune with some sectors of the Japanese public. 'Mr Fukuda is noticeably more pro-Chinese than his predecessors and, on the surface, relations between Tokyo and Beijing are quite calm,' said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University.

'But the feeling among the Japanese public towards China is not good because Beijing is so aggressive in its behaviour.'

Professor Shimada highlighted territorial disputes over a group of islands in the South China Sea, as well as disagreements over oil and gas deposits beneath the sea bed.

'Friendship between the two nations is nice,' Professor Shimada said. 'But when China is aggressive towards us, Japan needs to take a firm stance. Mr Fukuda has not had to face that situation yet, so it remains to be seen how he will respond when it does happen.

'Personally, I am not optimistic that he will be able to face down Chinese aggression ... the Chinese Communist Party can become very aggressive when it believes its adversary is weak.'

Ahead of the Shenzhen's visit, Mr Fukuda said relations with China were improving as if 'spring has arrived'. The positive signs include Mr Fukuda meeting Premier Wen Jiabao in Singapore early this month, President Hu Jintao's state visit to Japan next year and plans for a reciprocal visit by a Japanese warship to China next year.

Plain sailing


Class: Luhai

Commissioned 1999

Length (metres) 153

Displacement (tonnes) 6,500

Speed (knot) 30

Crew 345