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Japan's New Prime Minister Arrives in China in Bid to Improve Ties


Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has arrived in China on a visit aimed at improving ties between the two Asian giants. North Korean threats of a nuclear test are expected to top the agenda in Mr. Abe's meetings with Chinese leaders.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went straight into meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao at Beijing's Great Hall of the People following his arrival here Sunday.

The summit is the first between the two countries in five years that have been marked by heightened tensions over Japan's wartime history, territorial disputes, and a growing strategic rivalry.

Analysts say both sides appear ready to put the bitterness aside for now, and concentrate on more immediate issues. Topping that list are North Korea's nuclear threats.

Willy Lam is a Hong Kong-based China analyst and a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation - a U.S. research organization. He says Beijing is angry about Pyongyang's decision to test missiles in July and its current plans to test a nuclear device.

"Beijing is trying to form a kind of new understanding with Japan regarding North Korea, also through reaching some kind of agreement with Tokyo to put pressure on the Kim administration," he said.

Prior to leaving Tokyo Sunday, Mr. Abe warned North Korea not to conduct a nuclear test, and said the international community should send a message to the North that it will face further isolation if it does not revoke its plans.

This is Mr. Abe's first foreign trip since taking office last month, something a senior Japanese official says demonstrates the importance that the new administration places on repairing ties with China.

Mr. Abe has made no promises to refrain from visiting a memorial for Japan's war dead that China views as a symbol of Tokyo's militaristic past. China refused to hold talks with Mr. Abe's predecessor because of his visits to the Yasukuni shrine.

However, observers say Beijing appears willing to overlook the issue for now and instead take advantage of the opportunity brought by a change of leadership to - in a face-saving manner - turn the page.

The Jamestown Foundation's Lam says China cannot afford to ignore its strong economic links with Japan.

"Beijing realizes that Japan is still an economic powerhouse and that to some extent, Chinese industry - which is still dependent on Japanese high technology," Lam said. "So, Beijing is now more willing to take a more comprehensive and longer term view of its relationship with Japan."

Japan is Beijing's number one trading partner and has more money invested in China than any other nation.

On Monday, Mr. Abe heads to Seoul where he will hold similar fence-mending talks with South Korean leaders.

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