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Foreign Ministers from Asia, Africa Meet in Jakarta

Foreign ministers from African and Asian nations began a two-day meeting in Jakarta aimed at forging closer economic and political ties between the two continents. But a rift between China and Japan may overshadow the meeting.

The focus of the foreign ministers' meeting, and the summit of the leaders of 46 Asian and African nations that begins Friday, is on building new ties to boost prosperity and security.

In his opening remarks Wednesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda recalled the first gathering of Asian and African nations - 50 years ago in Indonesia.

At that conference, Asian and African nations, most of which had only recently been given independence from Western colonial powers, gathered to assert themselves on the world stage.

"We must give concrete form to our enhanced partnerships by translating the broad vision of the first generations of Asian-African leaders into a pragmatic and realistic message," said Mr. Hassan. "In doing so, we'll have to explore and arrive at operative ways and modalities for the launching and strengthening of our cooperation in the political, security, economic, and social-cultural fields."

Although much of this conference is expected to be devoted to economic and cultural ties between the two continents, there are fears that it will be overshadowed by Asian issues.

The biggest is a dispute between Beijing and Tokyo. It was sparked by massive demonstrations in China to protest new Japanese textbooks that many critics say whitewash Tokyo's militarism and atrocities in the first half of the 20th century.

Both Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend the gathering and may meet on the sidelines to try to ease tensions between their countries.

Other contentious issues include North Korea's nuclear program and Burma's dismal human rights record.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan will speak to the foreign ministers on Thursday, then again speaks at the opening of the two-day Asian-African Summit on Friday.

On Sunday, the attendees will travel about 150 kilometers south of Jakarta, for ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the first summit, which took place in the city of Bandung.