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China's President Hu Expresses Friendly Words Ahead of First Japan Visit


China's President Hu Jintao had friendly words for China-Japan relations before a Tuesday trip to Tokyo - the first by a Chinese president in almost 10 years. As Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing, relations between the occasional political rivals are on the mend.

President Hu Jintao leaves Tuesday for Japan for his first visit as president of China.

Mr. Hu will spend five days in Japan and is expected to visit the Japanese Emperor, deliver a speech to Japanese students, and play ping pong with the Japanese Prime Minister.

The two leaders are expected to discuss climate change and economic cooperation, a dispute over their maritime border in gas-rich seas, concerns about poison Chinese dumpling imports, and possibly Tibet.

Japan, like many countries, has expressed concern about China's handling of recent unrest in Tibet.

Mr. Hu told a group of Japanese journalists Sunday that despite their differences he expected the visit to have the atmosphere of a "warm spring."

He says what is important is that the two sides speak frankly and have friendly communication, seek common ground while shelving differences, promote friendship between the two peoples, and jointly safeguard the development of bilateral relations.

Tensions over history between the two Asian powers have in the past boiled over, and in 2005 thousands of Chinese students marched in demonstration against Japan.

Relations have improved dramatically since former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi left office. He upset China with annual visits to a Japanese war shrine that honored soldiers killed in World War II, including war criminals.

Mr. Koizumi was succeeded in 2006 by Shinzo Abe who did not visit the shrine and was welcomed to China for an "ice-breaking" visit just a few weeks after he became Prime Minister. Current Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has pledged he will not visit the shrine either.

The last Chinese president to visit Japan was Jiang Zemin in 1998. But he refused to accept the sincerity of Japan's apology for its war time atrocities.

Despite the political tensions, trade between the two nations continues to improve and last year totaled almost $237 billion.

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