Pandas and protests as Hu starts historic trip to Japan

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 May, 2008, 12:00am

President Hu Jintao yesterday called for closer ties with Japan as he arrived on the first visit by a Chinese head of state to Japan in more than a decade.

And in a private dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda last night, Mr Hu offered to loan two pandas to Japan as a friendly gesture ahead of his summit meeting with Mr Fukuda today.

He was greeted earlier at the airport by senior Japanese officials and Chinese supporters who waved Chinese national flags and held banners.

But in Tokyo city centre, hundreds - at one point more than 1,000 - pro-Tibet and right-wing Japanese protesters chanted 'Hu Jintao you leave' and waved Tibetan flags in a protest against the visit.

Calling his five-day visit 'a trip of warm spring', Mr Hu said he hoped to cement a 'mutually beneficial strategic partnership' with Japan as bilateral relations were finally warming up.

'China and Japan are both important countries in Asia and the world. It is in the fundamental interests of the two countries and their people for China and Japan to develop a long-term, stable and friendly neighbour relationship,' Mr Hu said in a written statement after he landed in Tokyo. 'I hope that this trip can enhance mutual trust, strengthen friendship, deepen co-operation and plan for the future.'

China has replaced the United States as Japan's largest trading partner with two-way trade worth US$236.6 billion, up 12 per cent from 2006.

The trip by Mr Hu is his first overseas visit since anti-government riots broke out in Tibet. It is also the first visit by a Chinese president since Mr Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin , visited Japan in 1998.

The visit marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the China-Japan Peace and Friendship Treaty. A fourth joint document that would elevate bilateral relations is expected to be secured during this trip.

At the end of last month, pro-Tibet activists and Japanese nationalists clashed with Chinese supporters when the Olympic torch passed through Nagano.

Mr Hu will visit the prime minister's alma mater, Wasada University, tomorrow, where there is expected to be more protests, especially when he meets students.

The mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun said that in the joint communique expected to be signed by the two leaders today, there would be no mention of Tibet or historical issues, but a focus on basic human rights and a value system shared by the international community.

'Beijing's attitude is now being criticised as out of sync with the values and diplomatic principles shared widely by the international community,' said an editorial in the newspaper.

'Fukuda should start their discussions by candidly pointing to the intensive international focus on China's behaviour.'