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Chinese Premier Wen Puts History Aside, Visits Japan


China's premier, Wen Jiabao, is in Tokyo - the first visit by a Chinese leader to Japan in about seven years. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from the Japanese capital.

Schoolchildren waved Chinese and Japanese flags and cheered the Chinese premier in the pouring rain as he descended the stairs of his airplane Wednesday in Tokyo.

Wen Jiabao says he came to Japan on a visit meant to mend relations strained by disputes over territory and Japan's past history of aggression against China.

Now, the Chinese are ready to talk about boosting cooperation on trade, environmental, and security matters. Mr. Wen went straight into a meeting with Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

Wednesday's agenda included the signing of a number of agreements on energy and environmental cooperation. Only hours before Mr. Wen's arrival in Tokyo, the two countries signed an agreement to end a four-year Chinese ban on Japanese rice imports.

But despite the cordialities and expressions of a new attitude of cooperation, the problems behind the past bitterness remain unresolved.

Mr. Abe has not publicly committed to refraining from visiting the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo. The shrine is where Japan honors its war dead, including several convicted war criminals responsible for atrocities during Japan's occupation of China in the 1930s and 1940s.

Yasukuni was the scene of a small protest Wednesday by members of nationalist groups that oppose any attempt by China to stop Japanese leaders from visiting the shrine.

With martial music playing from a loudspeaker on a van, the demonstrators held signs telling Wen Jiabao to stay out of Japan. One protester, who gave his name as Hirayama, says he feels betrayed by Mr. Abe for what he sees as the Japanese leader's bowing to China.

Hirayama says if he could speak to Shinzo Abe he would accuse him of being two-faced, for telling his right-wing supporters that he favors taking a hard line on China while inviting the Chinese leader and making what Hirayama sees as too many concessions to the Chinese communist government.

Japan is one of China's top trading partners and analysts say Mr. Abe is eager to show Japanese businesspeople that he is doing his part to improve ties with China. The Chinese, for their part, want to move forward with deals that include settling a longstanding dispute over control of potential oil and gas fields in the East China Sea.

While no one expects all the issues to be resolved soon, the Chinese premier's visit is seen as one step toward better cooperation between Japan -- the top economy of Asia -- and China, which is rising fast.