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Japan, China summit to focus on positive, not feuds
Tue Apr 28, 2009 1:55am EDT
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By Yoko Kubota
TOKYO (Reuters) - Leaders of Japan and China will be seeking to send an upbeat economic message when they meet this week, tiptoeing around a feud over a Tokyo shrine for war dead, to focus on countering the global slump.
China last week slammed Japan's outspoken nationalist prime minister, Taro Aso, for making an offering of a potted tree to Yasukuni Shrine.
Beijing sees the Tokyo shrine as a symbol of Japan's past militarism, but has adopted a more restrained tone after its initial outburst.
"To get bogged down on that issue is not very constructive for the two sides and there seems to be a kind of consensus between the two," a Japanese foreign ministry official told reporters.
Aso's trip comes as Japan and China, the world's second and third biggest economies respectively, seek to fight the fallout from the global financial crisis.
The visit also follows North Korea's April 5 launch of a rocket seen by Tokyo, Washington and Seoul as a ballistic missile test and Pyongyang's subsequent vow to boycott multilateral talks on ending its nuclear programs.
"By dealing with this (Yasukuni) so quickly, China has indicated that it's not going to allow this issue to damage relations when we're all most concerned above all about the financial crisis," said Sun Cheng of the China University of Political Science and Law.
Experts in Japan agreed the stress at present would be on cooperation, not conflict, despite a string of disputes ranging from rivalry over maritime resources to China's military budget.
Leaders from the two countries are also expected to discuss the latest threat to the global economy from a new flu strain that has killed up to 149 people in Mexico and prompted the World Health Organization to warn of a significantly increased risk of a global outbreak of a serious disease.
"Bringing up a side-issue like this one (Yasukuni) would give an impression that the ties are moving backwards. China probably does not want to do that," said Akio Takahara, a professor at the University of Tokyo. "It is not the time to be fighting."
MUTUAL MISTRUST REMAINS
Ties between the Asian neighbors and rivals chilled during Junichiro Koizumi's 2001-2006 term as Japanese premier, largely over his visits to Yasukuni, which honors World War Two leaders convicted as war criminals along with millions of war dead.
Diplomatic relations have improved since then and Koizumi's successors including Aso have avoided pilgrimages to the shrine.
But controversies over Japan's handling of World War Two memories continue to affect ties, and mutual mistrust remains deep among citizens of the two countries.
Almost 59 percent of Chinese respondents to a recent survey by Japanese Studies, a scholarly journal in China, said they do not feel friendly toward Japan, up from 53 percent in 2006. Continued...
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