Hu, Koizumi meet to defuse row

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CHINA and Japan yesterday took the first major step in trying to defuse a stormy row that has plunged relations between the two Asian powers to a three-decade low.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met on the sidelines of the Asian-African Summit here. It was the first top-level discussion since massive anti-Japanese protests erupted this month across China, over Tokyo’s approval of school textbooks that China claims play down wartime atrocities.

Mr Hu, calling on Tokyo to back up its ‘remorse’ with action, yesterday warned that worsening ties between the two countries could affect regional stability.

His comments were in contrast with the conciliatory tone of Mr Koizumi, who called on Beijing not to be affected by ‘temporary confrontations and differences of opinion’.

In the media spotlight, both leaders shook hands as they met in the ballroom of the five-star hotel where the talks were held. Mr Koizumi used both hands and appeared relaxed while Mr Hu looked stiff and expressionless.

After the 55-minute meeting, Mr Hu issued a rare public statement that underscored the prevailing mood in Beijing.

‘The strong reaction of the Chinese people and the concerns of people from other Asian countries are something that the Japanese side should seriously reflect on,’ he said.

‘At the moment, Sino-Japanese relations face a difficult situation. Such a difficult situation is not what we want to see. If the problem cannot be solved, it would be detrimental to China and Japan and would affect stability and development in Asia.’

Mr Koizumi sought to downplay the tensions. Asked how the meeting went as he left the hotel, the Japanese leader waved and said: ‘Very good.’

Later, he told reporters that he had agreed with Mr Hu during the meeting not to debate Japan’s wartime history or visits by Japanese politicians to a controversial war shrine in Tokyo.

Mr Koizumi said the current problems between China and Japan could affect regional ties. But he appeared to be more conciliatory, noting that the two countries are linked by billions of dollars in trade and investment.

‘Japan and China have never needed each other as much as they do today,’ he said. ‘We want to promote this relation…instead of agitating hostile feelings.’

The ice-breaking meeting took place just a day after Mr Koizumi issued what some see as the most public apology in a decade for Japanese aggression against its Asian neighbours during World War II.

Mr Hu made it clear yesterday that Tokyo needed to go beyond rhetoric, stressing that ‘remorse’ had to be ‘translated into action’.

He also said bilateral ties could improve if Japan refused to support any move towards independence by Taiwan.

Despite taking a harder line, Mr Hu held out hope that talks would help resolve thorny differences between both countries. ‘We hope that the two sides will work together to ensure the healthy, stable development of Sino-Japanese relations,’ he said.

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