Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will pay an official visit to China on Sunday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao announced yesterday.
"China and Japan have reached a consensus on overcoming the political obstacle to the bilateral relationship and promoting the sound development of a friendly and co-operative bilateral relationship," Liu said.
Accordingly, Abe will pay an official visit to China from October 8 to 9 at the invitation of Premier Wen Jiabao, the spokesman said.
Sino-Japanese relations soured over former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 Japanese class-A war criminals in World War II are honoured among the country's war dead.
The leaders of the two countries halted reciprocal visits after Koizumi began paying homage at the shrine, a symbol of Japan's past militarism, in 2001.
Abe won a landslide victory in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election on September 20, and was elected prime minister on September 26.
He has pledged to improve relations with Japan's Asian neighbours, but refused to say whether or not he would visit the shrine as prime minister.
But Abe said on Monday that on the subject of Japan's wartime history, he will follow the 1995 statement made by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who apologized and expressed remorse for Japan's colonial rule and atrocities before and during the war.
Abe also said that Japan had accepted the results of the International Military Tribunal of the Far East, which convicted 14 Japanese wartime leaders and others as war criminals.
Beijing has long urged Tokyo to remove "political obstacles" in Sino-Japanese relations.
President Hu Jintao said last March in a meeting with the heads of seven Japan-China friendship organizations that the major obstacle in the China-Japan relationship was the Japanese leader's insistence on visiting the shrine.
China will be Abe's first foreign trip as a prime minister. He is expected to meet President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing on Sunday before travelling to Seoul to meet the Republic of Korea (ROK) President Roh Moo-hyun the next day.
Speaking in Japan's parliament on Tuesday, Abe said he would work to improve strained relations with China and ROK and endeavour to build "future-oriented relations."
"China and the ROK are important neighbours, with whom Japan should strengthen dialogues and co-operation and establish future-oriented ties," Abe was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying.
Observers said Abe's visit to China reflects the efforts of Japan's new cabinet to repair the frayed political relations, while China's invitation demonstrates its positive attitude towards improving Sino-Japanese relations.
"I believe this would be a good beginning for the further improvement of China-Japan relations, although we can't expect the meeting will solve all the problems between the two countries," said Liu Jiangyong, a professor of Japan studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
But he added it will take time to see whether Abe makes real efforts in improving the bilateral relations, as it remains uncertain whether he will visit the Yasukuni Shrine after his China visit.
Jin Xide, a researcher of Sino-Japanese relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said he has noticed a change in Abe's words on his views of wartime history.
"We hope Abe can make clear his attitude on visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, as his vagueness on this question brings a lot of uncertainties for China-Japan relations," Jin said.
Source: China Daily