China warship docks in Tokyo, sign of warming ties

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TOKYO, Nov 28 (Reuters) A Chinese warship arrived in Tokyo today for the first such port call since World War Two, in the latest sign of warming ties between the Asian neighbours and former foes.

The two countries had agreed to reciprocal warship visits in 2000, but China cancelled a planned port call in 2002 after then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine, seen in China as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

The missile destroyer Shenzhen, named after the booming southern Chinese city, docked at Harumi pier, near Tokyo's upscale Ginza shopping district, greeted by hundreds of Chinese residents in Japan waving small Chinese and Japanese flags.

The residents performed a traditional Chinese lion dance while a Japanese navy brass band played, both under the tight watch of uniformed and plain-clothes police officers at the port.

Checkpoints dotted roads leading to the pier, although two trucks with right-wing protesters could be seen in the distance, with signs calling for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Ties between China and Japan have been troubled by bitter Chinese memories of Japan's invasion and partial occupation before and during World War Two, and they fell to their lowest in decades during the five years Koizumi was in power.

But relations turned around after Koizumi's successor, Shinzo Abe, visited China last year, followed by a visit to Japan by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in April.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda met Wen in Singapore last week, promising to visit China as early as the end of the year. Chinese President Hu Jintao is set to visit Japan sometime next year.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said yesterday the port call was an important part of ongoing dialogue between Beijing and Tokyo.

''At present, China-Japan relations are maintaining a healthy trend of improvement and development, and the leaders of the two countries have an important understanding to strengthen dialogue and exchanges in defence affairs,'' Qin told a news conference.

''We hope this visit will be able to enhance mutual understanding in the sphere of military and defence affairs.'' But the ties are not free of issues that could undermine them.

In a sign of Japanese concerns about China's military build-up, Japanese Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba said yesterday that Tokyo needs to closely watch actions of the Chinese military. Beijing has said its armed forces are solely for self-defence.

China said in March it would increase defence spending by 17.8 per cent to about 45 billion dollar this year, but a Pentagon report warned that Beijing's total military-related spending could be more than double that.

A row over territory and natural resources in the East China Sea remains unresolved, and Beijing is wary of Tokyo's intentions as Japan seeks a bigger global security role by stretching the limits of its post-World War Two pacifist constitution.

Reuters AK VP0715

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