'Visit ends diplomatic stalemate'

As Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had hoped, his China visit successfully ended the five-year stalemate in bilateral relations that had been caused by his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi.

But analysts warned yesterday that future prospects for Sino-Japanese ties still hinge on the most sensitive issue the Yasukuni Shrine.

Abe, who took office on September 26, is Japan's first post-war prime minister to choose China as the destination of his first official overseas trip.

His summit meetings with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were the first ones between the two countries since 2001, when top-level contacts were halted because of Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 14 class-A war criminals and Japan's war dead.

"Abe's visit, though short, is of great significance to and has made substantial achievements in developing relations between the two neighbours," said Professor Liu Jiangyong of Tsinghua University.

"It has signalled an important step towards restoring mutual trust and laid a solid foundation for advancing bilateral ties."

The summit talks covered a wide range of topics such as history, Taiwan, politics, the economy and trade, as well as the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.

Abe expressed deep remorse for Japan inflicting grave damage and suffering on the people of Asia, and he pledged not to glorify the country's military past and its class-A war criminals.

Liu said that Abe's tone during his talks with Chinese leaders was a departure from hawkish remarks made before becoming prime minister.

"That suggested Abe has paid much attention to and adopted a positive attitude towards improving ties with China," he told China Daily.

The professor said the face-to-face meeting between Abe and top Chinese leaders also provided an opportunity to strengthen mutual understanding and trust "through direct, in-depth and frank exchanges of views.

"The top leaders can play an irreplaceable role in charting the right direction for bilateral ties," he said.

But despite his praise for Abe's fence-mending visit, Liu cautioned that Sino-Japanese ties still face uncertainty when it comes to the Yasukuni issue.

Abe, who had once defended Koizumi's visits to the controversial shrine, has refused to say whether he will pay homage there.

Both Hu and Wen, however, stressed that to achieve the long-term stable and healthy development of China-Japan relations, the issue of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine must be properly solved and the political obstacles affecting bilateral ties must be removed in line with the consensus reached between the two nations.

"The Chinese leaders have sent a clear message that China does not want to see Abe visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in any capacity," Liu said.

"What Abe says on the shrine issue does not matter at all. What really matters is what he does in the future."

The professor expressed his hope that Abe will make a wise decision after gaining a better understanding of the Chinese position on the Yasukuni issue.

"Obviously, the ball is not in China's court. It is up to Abe and Japan to decide whether to develop bilateral relations in a smooth way in the future," he said.

Xu Dunxin, China's ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1998, was "prudently optimistic" about the prospects of China-Japan relations.

"Abe's visit cannot resolve all the problems in bilateral ties as they are complicated and protracted," he was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency.

Source: China Daily



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