Relief for president among old friends

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

As if hoping to dilute some of the opposition he faced, President Hu Jintao emphasised the theme of 'long-time friendship' on his first day in Tokyo.

He made a point of meeting a handful of Japanese friends of China, and even squeezed in two extra appointments at the last minute.

Mr Hu was hoping to rekindle friendly ties on what was the 30th anniversary of the signing of the China-Japan Peace and Friendship Treaty, the political document that set the foundation for bilateral relations.

In contrast to the protests on the streets, Mr Hu's meetings with the family members of politicians and businessmen who helped bring about normalisation of ties were marked by warm handshakes, smiles and exchanges of gifts.

Among these were the children of two former premiers: Kakuei Tanaka, who pushed Japan to become one of the first countries to re-establish diplomatic ties with China in 1972; and Masayoshi Ohira, who signed off on Japan's first development aid package to China. They presented mementos such as photos and books, while the president offered a model of the Beijing National Stadium and the Olympic mascots - the 'Five Friendlies'.

The spot chosen for an informal dinner between Mr Hu and the Japanese prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, also emphasised friendship - the owner of the restaurant was a good friend of Sun Yat-sen, and it was where he married Soong Ching-ling in 1915. The owner's great-granddaughter showed Mr Hu around the 100-year-old French restaurant.