April 30, 2009 / 11:53 AM / 11 years ago

Japan and China talk up cooperation, sidestep tensions

BEIJING, April 30 (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso held out agreements on fighting the financial crisis, global warming and swine flu as evidence of deepening ties with sometime rival China on Thursday, sidestepping tensions over the past.

At the end of his two-day visit to Beijing, Aso told reporters he and China’s leaders also agreed on seeking an early restart of six-party talks to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, which has raised regional tensions. [ID:nSEO194433]

But Chinese President Hu Jintao did not appear to offer Aso much hope of an early end to North Korean threats.

“The six-party talks are facing a difficult phase,” Hu told Aso, a Japanese official told reporters after the meeting. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Those on-off talks bring together North and South Korea, host China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

There were no big surprises in China and Japan’s broad agreements to cooperate in lifting domestic consumption and resisting trade protectionism, to help China absorb greenhouse gas-reducing energy technology and to foster youth exchanges.

“I think the biggest fruit was that we were able to clearly show our will to work together hand in hand to recover the economy and overcome the financial crisis,” Aso told a news conference of his meetings with Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao.

The two sides also did little to resolve long-standing disputes over natural gas beds under the East China Sea.

But after past years of icy hostility between Asia’s two economic powerhouses, the muted ordinariness of Aso’s visit was itself an achievement.

Japan and China are respectively the world’s second and third biggest economies, and with the global slump battering exports and consumer confidence, they both have a lot at stake in avoiding diplomatic fireworks that could rattle markets.

China-Japan trade grew to $266.4 billion in 2008, a rise of 12.5 percent on 2007, but the slump has dragged down orders from both sides. China is Japan’s top partner in total trade and its second-ranked destination for exports after the United States.

“With trade between our two countries falling sharply, both sides must strengthen communication and policy coordination,” Hu told Aso, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Hu and Wen in their separate meetings also nudged Aso over his recent ritual offering of a potted tree to the Yasukuni shrine for the war dead in Tokyo, despised by many Chinese who see it as a symbol of past Japanese militarism.

But they avoided any of the torrid denunciations that were common in earlier years over Japan’s invasion and occupation of parts of China from 1931-1945.

Hu told Aso that it was important to “correctly grasp and appropriately handle historical problems”, Xinhua said, avoiding mention of the shrine.

Ties between the Asian neighbours chilled during Junichiro Koizumi’s 2001-2006 term as Japanese premier, largely over his visits to Yasukuni, which honours millions of war dead, including some convicted as criminals by a post-World War Two tribunal.

Relations have improved since then and Koizumi’s successors including Aso have avoided pilgrimages to the shrine.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing and Chisa Fujioka in Tokyo; Writing by Chris Buckley; Editing by Sugita Katyal) ((chris.buckley@reuters.com; +86-10-66271261)) ((If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to newsfeedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com))

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