TOKYO: Missile destroyer Shenzhen dropped anchor off Tokyo Bay yesterday, the first time a People's Liberation Army (PLA) ship has called at a Japanese port.
Named after the booming economic hub in Guangdong Province, the vessel docked at Harumi pier, near Tokyo's upscale Ginza shopping district, and was greeted by hundreds of Chinese residents in Japan waving Chinese and Japanese flags.
"We looked forward to your visit, which will open a new page in the history of Japan-China military exchanges," Japan's chief of naval operations, Eiji Yoshikawa, said in a speech.
Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to Japan, also stressed the significance of the visit in bilateral relations.
"Shenzhen is a messenger of peace and friendship. It wants to relay the hope of a harmonious Asia and a harmonious world," he said before reporters and guests were taken on board for a visit.
"Bilateral relations are at an important point," he said. "China is following the path of peace and partnership, and Japan is an important neighbor."
The ship will stay in Japan for four days and is open to the public. It will also dock at the port of Yokosuka, south of the Japanese capital, before returning to its home base in the southern city of Zhanjiang.
The trip, which is likely to be reciprocated by Japanese naval vessels, is part of the exchange program agreed to in August by Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan and his then Japanese counterpart Masahiko Komura.
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said on Tuesday in a meeting with a group of Chinese media officials that bilateral ties are improving and "spring has already arrived".
"I believe spring has already come to Japan-China relations. I want the spring to continue as long as possible," Fukuda was quoted as saying.
Fukuda met Premier Wen Jiabao in Singapore last week on the sidelines of a series of ASEAN summits and agreed to visit China at the end of the year or early next year.
In response to Japanese concerns about China's military build-up, Rear Admiral Xiao Xinnian, commander of the warship, reassured his Japanese host that China's military strategy is self-defensive in nature.
Source: China Daily/Agencies