After panda goodwill, Japan, China tackle disputes

TOKYO Tue May 6, 2008 4:08pm EDT

1 of 4. Chinese President Hu Jintao (R) smiles at Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda (L) as they inspect a display of Sun Yat-sen, at Hibiya Matsumotoro restaurant in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday, May 6, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Shizuo Kambayashi/Pool

TOKYO (Reuters) - Gifts of pandas and vows of friendship between China and Japan give way to hard questions on Wednesday when leaders of the two Asian powers meet to grapple with disputes that have bred festering distrust between them.

Chinese President Hu Jintao began his state visit to Japan with a flourish of goodwill on Tuesday by offering two giant pandas to a Tokyo zoo.

But friction over history, undersea gas reserves, military plans, international influence and consumer safety has divided the neighbors, and mutual public distrust runs deep.

A summit between Hu and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is intended to ease some of the feuding and settle on a joint blueprint for future ties between Asia's two economic giants.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman sounded an optimistic note about the talks, to be held after Hu visits the Japanese emperor, the symbolic head of state.

"I'm sure both sides will strive together to encourage this visit to achieve more understandings and outcomes," spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters in Tokyo late on Tuesday.

Analysts, noting that restive Tibet and human rights may also be among issues Fukuda will raise, expected more vows to keep discussing problems than breakthroughs in resolving them.

"During Hu's visit, none of these bilateral issues can be avoided," said Huang Dahui, an expert on Japan at the Renmin University in Beijing.

"But this visit isn't about solving any of them now. It will be about preventing them dragging down relations and encouraging the right atmosphere so they can be solved later."

CHILL OVER YASUKUNI

Sino-Japanese ties chilled during Junichiro Koizumi's 2001-2006 term as prime minister over his visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni war shrine, seen by critics as an offensive symbol of wartime misdeeds.

Tension over such issues has since eased, but Japanese media reports said delicate references in the joint document to Taiwan, human rights, and Japan's hopes for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council were still being negotiated.

Fukuda may also press China on Tibet. Protests there in March, followed by riots, prompted a security crackdown that alarmed Western powers, which have urged Beijing to talk with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader.

Beijing and Tokyo are also arguing over rights to gas beneath the East China Sea, while a row over Chinese-made dumplings laced with pesticide that made several people sick has become for some a symbol of Japanese alarm at China's rise.

Japan wants greater transparency about China's surging defense spending, set at 418 billion yuan ($60 billion) for 2008, up 17.6 percent on 2007 and outstripping Japan's defense budget.

Tokyo also wants Chinese backing for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, an issue that fuelled anti-Japanese protests in China in 2005.

China has pressed Japan to declare again its stance on Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing says must accept reunification. Tokyo has said it supports "one China" that includes Taiwan, which was a Japanese colony for 50 years until 1945 and still has close ties with Japan.

Chinese and Japanese leaders are also set to sign agreements on addressing global warming, trade and economic ties and other areas in which they hope to expand cooperation.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

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