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China's Wen has hard-sell on thaw in Japan, at home

TOKYO (Reuters) - He’s smiled and waved, wooed lawmakers and executives, and even claimed a morning jog as a diplomatic coup, but Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has yet to convince ordinary Japanese the two nations can truly be friends.

Visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao goes for an early morning run in a park in Tokyo April 12, 2007. REUTERS/Kyodo

“As performance, it’s good, but will it really be linked to a fundamental resolution of problems?” asked Shizuo Maeda, a 34-year-old Japanese businessman as he sipped iced coffee at a sidewalk cafe in Tokyo on Thursday, the second day of Wen’s three-day visit to Japan. “I think that’s pretty difficult.”

And while Wen may be popular back home, he’s also having a hard time persuading his own people the Asian neighbors can easily set aside their bitter past to manage present rivalries.

“Sensitive issues between the two countries have existed for many years,” said Sun Liguo, a 26-year old student at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

“It’s impossible to solve them during just one visit.”

Wen’s trip to Japan is studded with ceremony, including a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Abe and a speech to Parliament, but it is also being leavened with a human touch.

Clad in a black track suit with the logo of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 64-year-old Wen jogged in a park near his hotel in Tokyo, then joined a group doing exercises set to music.

Wen himself seemed to think he was making headway.

“This morning, I went jogging at the park and had the chance to talk with a number of elderly Japanese,” Wen was quoted as telling Yohei Kono, speaker of Japanese parliament’s lower house.

“I asked them what they thought of friendly Japan-China relations and they all said it was wonderful. I myself was very pleased to hear that,” a Japanese official quoted Wen as saying.

Later, Wen prompted applause from guests at a reception when he said his mother was pleased with his speech to Parliament, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported. “You spoke very well,” Wen quoted her as saying when he called her from Tokyo.

Japanese taking breaks from their daily grind, however, were not so enthusiastic. Several said they were too busy to watch much news about Wen’s visit, and one young woman confessed with a laugh that she didn’t know the Chinese leader was in town.

His speech to parliament was broadcast live in both China and Japan, but at a time when most people were at work.

Some Japanese said Wen’s visit, the first by a Chinese leader in nearly seven years, was a good step towards better ties.

“We need to improve relations and for that, they need to talk,” said Takuya Yamasaki, 38, who works for a retail firm. “If they don’t have meetings, then there will be no progress.”

Others were not even that optimistic.

“I don’t have much expectations (from the visit),” said Miki Tomoeda, an IT consultant drinking tea outside.

“There haven’t been any outstanding developments so far,” she said, adding she had no real impression of Wen himself.

Students back home in China had heaps of praise for Wen, but were also skeptical about how easy it will be to overcome decades of mutual mistrust between Japan and China, where memories of Tokyo’s military aggression in the 1930s and 1940s run deep.

Sha Qingqing, a history student at Shanghai’s Fudan University, said the two countries might never be real partners, but could set aside rancor if both would reflect on the past -- hardly an easy task.

“Sino-Japan relations are like a blind man bumping into a deaf man -- one can’t hear and the other can’t see, making communication hard,” Sha said.