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China tries to calm Japan food scare before Hu visit

TOKYO (Reuters) - A senior Chinese envoy sought to soothe Japanese concerns over contaminated Chinese-made food on Thursday before an upcoming visit to the country by President Hu Jintao, saying it was treating the issue with great importance, media reported.

Fears about food imports have mounted after news last month that 10 people had fallen ill from frozen dumplings made in a northern Chinese factory that were contaminated with pesticide.

Japanese media have since reported other Chinese-made foods laced with pesticide, although they have not resulted in any health hazards.

Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan, who arrived on Wednesday for a five-day visit to prepare for Hu’s visit, told a reception that he hoped for progress in the investigations into the contaminated dumplings, being carried out jointly by both countries.

“I express my sincere sympathy to those affected in the incident, and I hope that we will get to the truth as soon as possible through close cooperation between the Chinese and Japanese sides,” Tang was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency.

China has said the food scare, which has dominated news programs in Japan, would not affect Hu’s trip. Hu is expected to make the first visit to Japan by a Chinese president in a decade, probably in April.

Relations between the neighbors have been strained by a range of issues, mostly dating back to Japan’s occupation of parts of China in the last century, but they have improved in recent years along with a flourishing in business ties.

Japanese officials have hinted that the dumplings might have been tainted by activists against warming bilateral relations, but a senior Chinese official said last week there was almost no chance the dumplings were contaminated in China on purpose.

Reporting by Chisa Fujioka