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China's Xi urges deeper Japan ties ahead of visit

TOKYO (Reuters) - Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, seen as frontrunner to succeed President Hu Jintao, on Saturday expressed hopes for deeper ties with Japan, as controversy swirled about his meeting with Emperor Akihito next week.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping delivers a speech during a joint media briefing with Romania's President Traian Basescu (unseen) at Cotroceni presidential palace in Bucharest October 19, 2009. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

Xi will arrive in Tokyo on Monday, the latest sign of an improvement in relations often frayed by feuds over trade, sea borders and Chinese wartime memories.

“We would like to further develop our friendly, neighborly cooperative ties,” Kyodo news agency quoted Xi as saying in an interview with news organizations in Beijing.

Xi also said Sino-Japanese relations now “maintain a good momentum for development” and welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s proposal for an East Asian Community bound by deeper trade and economic links, Kyodo said.

Ties between the world’s second and third biggest economies have been positive since Hatoyama came to power in September pledging closer ties with Asian neighbors and a diplomatic stance more independent of security ally Washington.

But Xi’s planned meeting with Emperor Akihito has stirred controversy in Japan since it was revealed the government had sought a waiver of a decade-old custom requiring applications for royal audiences be made a month in advance.

Beijing requested the meeting on November 26, Japanese media said. Hatoyama denied the request to waive the deadline violated Japan’s constitutional ban on a political role for the emperor.

“This is a matter of improving relations between Japan and a foreign country, and so the expression ‘political use’ (of the emperor) does not apply,” Hatoyama told reporters on Friday.

Japan fought World War Two in the name of then-Emperor Hirohito, but its post-war, U.S.-drafted constitution designates the emperor as a “symbol of the State” without political power.

“I don’t think this is appropriate,” Kyodo quoted Shigeru Ishiba, policy chief of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, ousted by Hatoyama’s Democrats in an August poll, as saying. “Diplomacy should not be conducted by using the emperor.”

Emperor Akihito, 75, has played a role in improving relations with Japan’s Asian neighbors during his two decades on the throne, including through a historic 1992 visit to China.

Reporting by Linda Sieg