Fukuda joins opposition to Taiwan's referendum
Kristine Kwok in Beijing and Lawrence Chung in Taipei
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and mainland leaders held high-level talks amid much fanfare yesterday, with Beijing finally securing clear opposition from its neighbour to Taiwan's push for a referendum on joining the United Nations.
'We fully understand China's position that the Taiwan issue relates to China's core interests and moreover we'll uphold our promises to China on this issue,' Mr Fukuda said after a more than two-hour meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao at the Great Hall of the People.
'We don't desire tensions stemming from Taiwan's referendum. If it leads to a unilateral change of the status quo, we cannot support it.'
The statement follows similar opposition from Washington and is the strongest yet from Tokyo against Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's plan to hold a referendum on the island joining the United Nations in the name 'Taiwan'.
Until now, Japan had been vague on the issue, despite Beijing seeking pressure from the international community on Taipei over the plan.
The Taiwanese government said Mr Fukuda's comments merely reflected Japan's long-standing position on maintaining the cross-strait status quo.
'Prime Minister Fukuda is concerned about whether any change in the cross-strait status would create tension in the region and, based on this reason, he does not support Taiwan's referendum,' Taiwan's foreign minister, James Huang Chih-fang, said. Mr Huang said the referendum was not to change the cross-strait status and was just a gesture to show the Taiwanese people's desire to join the United Nations.
Despite pre-trip predictions by Japanese officials that a breakthrough on the joint exploration of the East China Sea for gas was unlikely, a Japanese spokesman said both sides hoped to settle the issue before a visit to Japan in the spring by President Hu Jintao .
The two leaders announced Mr Hu's visit yesterday, with Mr Wen saying it was of great significance.
'It's a first for a Chinese president in the new century,' he said.
Mr Fukuda's visit, which follows improvements in the bilateral relationship since his predecessor Shinzo Abe made a breakthrough trip in September last year, has been described as more symbolic than substantial. But Chinese leaders were hopeful of better ties, with Mr Wen saying a brief snowfall yesterday was an auspicious sign that Mr Fukuda's trip would bring spring to Sino-Japanese ties.
'Mr Fukuda said the spring had come in our relations and after two hours of talks, I truly feel that the spring of China-Japan relations has indeed arrived,' Mr Wen said.
Mr Fukuda had dinner with Mr Hu last night. The president said Mr Fukuda's visit would further promote co-operation between the two countries in various areas.