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Asian Issues May Dominate Asian-African Summit

Regional Asian issues, including the rift between China and Japan, are threatening to overshadow this week's Asian-African Summit in Indonesia.

As a meeting between senior officials from African and Asian nations gets underway in Jakarta, Indonesia is gearing up for the Friday opening of the Asian-African Summit, where leaders of 46 nations will meet.

Among those leaders will be Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Their countries are involved in a serious dispute following three weeks of violent anti-Japanese protests in China.

The rift between the two countries was sparked by Japan's approval of school textbooks that China says whitewash Tokyo's wartime atrocities. Chinese protesters have also demonstrated against Tokyo's bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

Leo Suryadinata is a political analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. He says Tokyo and Beijing may hold talks at the Asian-African summit, but substantial developments are unlikely.

"Both sides now are quite eager I think to talk about issues, but it seems to me that if they want to come up with something, they need to make some compromises," said Mr. Suryadinata. "Without compromises, I do not think they will be able to achieve anything."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will give the keynote speech at the summit. He is urging Japan and China to use the conference to solve their differences.

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

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, right, shakes hands with his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki
But Indonesian presidential spokesman Dino Djalal says Indonesia and joint-host South Africa hope this year's summit will focus on bringing Asia and Africa new trade and friendship pacts.

"Across the Pacific Ocean there's APEC [Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation], there's ARF [Asian Regional Forum] that binds the countries around that region together," he said. "Across the Atlantic Ocean there is the alliance between Europe and North America and other forms of cooperation as well, but across the Indian Ocean there is nothing binding Asia and Africa together and this is a strategic move to bind Asia and Africa together."

The past few years have seen an increase in trade between Asia and Africa, and oil-rich countries such as Nigeria, Angola, and Algeria are likely to be courted by Asian governments during the summit.

This year's summit also commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1955 conference in Bandung, Indonesia where African and Asian leaders met to put their colonial past behind them.

"The Asia Africa conference was the first diplomatic move to signify solidarity between the peoples of Asia and Africa and from that emerged a host of third-world collective diplomacies such as the Non-Aligned Movement," added Mr. Djalal.

But some analysts have expressed doubts about the summit's ability to address issues of concern to both regions, such as the AIDS epidemic and poverty reduction efforts.