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Chinese President Hu calls for healthy Japan ties

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, July 4 (Reuters) China's President Hu Jintao told the head of Japan's main opposition party today that he hoped the two countries, whose relations are chilled by wartime history and regional rivalry, could get ties back on track.

Sino-Chinese relations deteriorated after Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took office in 2001 and began visits to Yasukuni Shrine, seen by Beijing as a symbol of Tokyo's past militarism.

Hu acknowledged the problems in a meeting with Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of Japan's opposition Democratic Party, and called for more dialogue, the official Xinhua news agency said.

China has refused to hold summits with Koizumi since 2001, when Koizumi visited Beijing, although the leaders of Asia's two top economies have met on the sidelines of multilateral forums.

In a summary of Hu's speech, Xinhua reported that he said: ''We hope through the joint efforts of both sides we can eliminate at an early date the political obstacles in the two nations' relationship, and push Sino-Japanese relations back as soon as possible onto the track of healthy and stable development.'' Ozawa told a news conference that building mutual trust was the key. ''If there is no trust, we cannot resolve individual problems,'' he said.

Huang Dahui, a Japan expert at the People's University of China, said Hu's meeting with Ozawa, like one with leaders of several Japanese non-governmental groups in March, had a message aimed at Koizumi's possible successors.

''China, through both visits, wants to pressure the ruling party in Japan since some elements within it are not that friendly to China,'' Huang said, adding that Beijing wanted better ties but would stand firm on Yasukuni.

Koizumi is due to step down in September and how to handle Japan's ties with China and South Korea, where bitter memories of Japanese military aggression run deep, has emerged as a focal point of the race to succeed him.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe has backed Koizumi's shrine visits, although he has declined to say whether he would pay his respects there if he became prime minister. His number two rival, veteran lawmaker Yasuo Fukuda, is a critic of Koizumi's Asian diplomacy.

Ties between China and Japan are also beleaguered by competition over energy and mutual mistrust over each other's military ambitions. The two sides will meet from July seven to nine discuss a disputed natural gas field in the East China Sea.

REUTERS SRS RN1832

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