Analysts say Fukuda visit can improve warming relations

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2007, 12:00am

The thaw in the Sino-Japanese relationship is set to accelerate with high expectations that Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda will push for more economic and cultural co-operation between the Asian neighbours when he lands in China tomorrow.

And although no tangible achievements are likely to be made during the trip, the first by Mr Fukuda in his current capacity, analysts say the four-day trip will lay the groundwork for further improvements in Sino-Japanese ties.

Beijing has also hailed the trip as an important step towards a warmer bilateral relationship.

'Mr Fukuda's visit is an important move after the ice-breaking trip by [former Japanese prime minister] Shinzo Abe and the ice-thawing journey by Premier Wen Jiabao,' Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said yesterday. 'This [trip] is vital to pushing for a healthy and steadily forward-moving relationship between China and Japan.'

A wide range of issues is expected to be touched on during Mr Fukuda's meetings with President Hu Jintao, Mr Wen and National People's Congress Standing Committee chairman Wu Bangguo, but analysts say more attention will be focused on matters that are more likely to bear fruit.

Japanese officials have already forecast little hope of a breakthrough on the long-running dispute over gas exploration in the East China Sea.

The central government is also hoping Japan will voice clearer opposition to Taiwan's push to join the United Nations.

But Niu Zhongjun, an associate professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, said secondary issues such as economic and cultural co-operation were more likely to be top of the agenda.

'It takes a long time and lots of effort to settle sensitive issues such as the two countries' different views on history and East China Sea exploration. It's easier to work on something less controversial first to improve the overall environment,' Professor Niu said.

The visit will see Mr Fukuda delivering a presentation at Peking University and visiting a primary school in Beijing.

It will also take him to Qufu in Shandong province , the birthplace of Confucius, a philosopher whose ideas greatly shaped the two countries' culture, and Tianjin , a booming economic hub that has attracted many Japanese businesspeople.

Professor Niu said that unlike his predecessor Mr Abe's trip in September last year, Mr Fukuda's would provide more specific direction on how to settle diplomatic issues.

'Mr Abe's visit opened a channel for China and Japan to resume a normal relationship, but he didn't know how to really ease the two countries' relations. Mr Fukuda's visit will build on this and provide more concrete groundwork,' he said.

'But we should not have high expectations of any significant deal being signed.'

Yuki Tatsumi of the Washington-based Henry L. Stimson Centre agreed that tangible achievements were unlikely but the trip would ensure further dialogue between the two countries' leaders.

'Next year will be a period of steady co-operation on the items the two countries have agreed on, and of giving richness to the relationship,' she said.

Hidden riches

Japan and China have been locked in a dispute over gas exploration in the East China Sea

A Japanese survey in 1999 estimated the gas reserves in the Chunxiao field in the East China

Sea to be (in cubic metres) 200b