Chinese leaders have begun moderating their criticism of Japan's aggression during the 1930s and World War II, overcoming one of the last hurdles to better relations, according to Japanese diplomats and analysts. Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Ichita Yamamoto said he believed a change in China's attitude over what the Japanese call 'historical issues' would allow relations to improve. Japan wanted to strengthen ties with its neighbour which, it believed, would become a 'very constructive' partner and a great power in the region, said Mr Yamamoto. 'We are going to continue this effort to overcome some of the hostilities between the two countries and consolidate our relations towards the millennium and the 21st century,' he said. Japanese sensitivity to Chinese criticism of its military past were heightened during President Jiang Zemin's visit to Japan in November last year when he continually raised the subject. But the criticism was muted during Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's trip to China in July when agreement was reached to help Beijing's entry to the World Trade Organisation. Politburo Standing Committee member Li Ruihuan concluded a low-key visit to Tokyo yesterday with little reference to past events. More exchanges were needed between the young people of both countries, said Toshiro Ozawa, acting director of the Foreign Ministry-related Japan Institute of International Affairs. Surveys showed more young Japanese were viewing China in a negative rather than positive light. Mr Ozawa said: 'There has been a shift in opinions and I think this is a worrying trend. There is a need for both countries to strengthen youth exchange to enhance mutual understanding.' Academics and members of think-tanks in Japan had been discussing the 'issue of history' in meetings with Chinese counterparts, said Mr Ozawa. 'This is not to say we are trying to erase history, but there is a perception that historical issues are being used as a card in other issues,' he said. The most expansive apology to come from Tokyo was given by former Socialist prime minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995 when he expressed deep remorse and sincerely apologised for his nation's wartime behaviour. Tokyo is China's largest aid donor.