Premier Wen Jiabao vowed to "melt the ice" in April as he made the first visit by a Chinese leader to Japan since 2000.
Traditional diplomacy was brought to the fore during Wen’s three-day visit. The 64 year-old premier took part in a tai chi session in a Tokyo park, pitched to a university baseball team and even made a house call on a Japanese farmer.
Wen did give a landmark address to Japan’s parliament but in this, and in talks with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, the issues of tension between the two countries were largely ignored.
Notably, there was no discussion of the ongoing Sino-Japanese stand-off over the development of gas and oil fields in the East China Sea.
Legislators in Tokyo have put forward two bills recently encouraging Japanese companies to further explore the energy deposits, control of which is contested by Beijing. Abe has come out in support of both bills and they are widely expected to pass.
The controversial Yasukuni shrine, a source of great offence to Chinese people as it commemorates several Japanese war criminals alongside the country’s war dead, also stayed off the agenda. However, speaking in an interview prior to his visit, Wen pressed Abe not to follow former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in making pilgrimages to the shrine.
Abe has yet to express any opinion on the subject.
Some progress was made on trade issues; the two countries signied an accord which ends Beijing’s four-year ban on Japanese rice imports. There were also deals on environment and energy cooperation. These included an agreement to continue Japan’s practice of purchasing low-cost emissions from China after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
Wen declared his trip a success, saying that Abe’s time in office had strengthened trade ties between the two countries.
A commentary in the People’s Daily concluded: "Although it takes mor e than one day to melt the thick ice, the trend of improving bilateral ties is irreversible."
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