China confirms President Hu plans Japan state visit

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BEIJING, Nov 21 (Reuters) Chinese President Hu Jintao plans a state visit to Japan next year, a Chinese diplomat said on Wednesday, adding that the first such trip there by his nation's head of state in a decade would be an ''historic''event.

Japan has often invited Hu to visit as the two countries seek to ease long-standing tensions over history, territory and energy.

At a summit of Asian leaders in Singapore yesterday, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda repeated the invitation when he met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

China's new ambassador to Japan has now confirmed that preparations for a Hu state visit are on in earnest.

''China is now actively preparing for President Hu Jintao to make a state visit to Japan next year,'' Cui Tiankai said in remarks posted on the embassy's Web site (www.china-embassy.or.jp).

''This will mark another visit by a Chinese head of state after 10 years, and it will certainly produce important and far-reaching consequences.'' Sino-Japanese relations became tense in recent years. Beijing was angered by the annual visits paid by then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which critics say symbolises Japan's militarism during its 1939-45 invasion and brutal occupation of much of China.

Ties warmed after Shinzo Abe replaced Koizumi last year and visited Beijing almost at once. Chinese Premier Wen went to Japan in April and Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan in August.

A Chinese warship set sail today on a landmark voyage to Japan in a further sign of warming relations.

The missile destroyer Shenzhen left the southern port of Zhanjiang on a visit to Tokyo that the official Xinhua news agency described as ''a first in the history of the navy forces of the Chinese People's Liberation Army''.

REUTERS RJ ND1620

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