President Hu Jintao became the first Chinese head of state to visit Japan in a decade in early May. For both Hu and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, the unofficial brief was to ease political tensions and reinforce bilateral trade ties.
Perhaps the most significant development was a commitment to annual summits and increased civil and military exchanges. However, a number of issues were unresolved or remained unaddressed.
Discussions on energy, for example, fell short of producing many tangible results. China signed an agreement recognizing the importance of Tokyo’s goal to halve carbon emissions by 2050, but made no pledge to limit its own carbon output.
Similarly, Hu called on Japan to make green technology “a new highlight of economic and trade cooperation,” but Tokyo signed no actual deals to share its expertise.
The biggest commercial achievement on energy was a letter of intent signed by China National Petroleum Corp and Nippon Oil. This will see the Chinese firm purchase a 49% stake in an Osaka oil refinery.
Hu’s participation in some goodwill gestures during the trip – playing table tennis and offering to loan a pair of pandas to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo – suggested that both sides are keen to focus on the future rather than dwell on the past.
For his part, Fukuda has remained largely silent regarding Japan’s military history and does not visit the Yasukuni shrine, which honors convicted war criminals alongside Japan’s war dead.
But there are new points of contention – like Japanese falling ill from Chinese-manufactured frozen dumplings packaged with pesticides – that highlight the mistrust still held at a popular level between the two nations.
More panda diplomacy may be just around the corner, but it remains to be seen how quickly this can bring about lasting change.