Hu's Japan trip might be delayed until May
Kristine Kwok in Beijing
Dumpling scare not to blame, officials insist
Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Dawei hinted yesterday that President Hu Jintao's visit to Japan could be delayed until May.
But Mr Wu insisted that the recent row over mainland-made frozen dumplings that made at least 10 people in Japan sick had no bearing on plans for Mr Hu's trip, the first by a Chinese president in a decade.
'The two leaders will discuss development of Sino-Japanese relations in the 21st century from a long-term strategic perspective. What does that have to do with the dumplings?' Mr Wu said on the sidelines of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference meeting.
It was widely expected that Mr Hu would visit Japan next month, 'when the cherry blossoms bloom'.
Mr Wu said Mr Hu 'would go in the spring' and the two sides were still discussing the exact dates.
'The trip has to be made at the two leaders' convenience. The details will soon be released,' he said.
'I think May counts as spring, and the Sino-Japanese relationship should always be in spring,' he said, adding that cherry trees would still be blooming in parts of Japan in May.
Japan's Kyodo news agency had reported that the landmark trip was likely to be postponed to avoid the food scare being a focal point of the visit. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said yesterday that bilateral ties would not be affected by a single incident.
'We believe this will be a historic visit. It will have a very strong and enduring meaning in promoting the long-term, healthy and stable development of the Sino-Japanese relationship,' he said.
Relations had long been strained until Shinzo Abe made an ice-breaking trip to the mainland in late 2006 when he was prime minister. The trip by Premier Wen Jiabao to Japan last April helped to 'thaw the ice' further. This year, Yasuo Fukuda, Mr Abe's successor, made his first trip to the mainland in his capacity as prime minister.
Zhang Yunling, a professor of international relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said a delay could result from the two sides needing more time to iron out differences on major issues so that breakthroughs could be made.
Thorny issues such as gas exploration rights in the East China Sea and Japan's push for China's support in its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council would need to be sorted out before Mr Hu made the trip, he said.
The two sides failed to reach an agreement on the East China Sea dispute when deputy foreign ministers held talks two weeks ago.
'After all, this will be the first time a Chinese state leader has visited Japan in 10 years. They'll want to avoid the criticisms that followed [former president] Jiang Zemin's visit,' Professor Zhang said.
Critics claimed Mr Jiang failed to achieve any breakthrough on his 1998 trip, such as urging Junichiro Koizumi, then prime minister, to stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine.
Unwrapping the row
How the dumpling drama unfolded
Japanese police announce that 10 people fell ill after eating mainland-made dumplings tainted with insecticide
Japanese investigators say insecticide was found on outside of six bags of Chinese-made dumplings, the same type involved in the scare
Beijing says the incident will not affect President Hu Jintao's longanticipated visit to Japan this year
State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan says in Japan that Beijing will be 'responsible' in ensuring food safety
Japanese newspapers report that Hu's visit likely to be delayed until May