China, Japan Reach Accord On Energy, Environmental Protection

Chinese Premier and Japanese Prime Minister meet to develop strategic relationships, after years of bad relations.

TOKYO (AP) - Japanese and Chinese leaders heralded a new era of closer ties between the two Asian powers Wednesday, moving to repair relations damaged by a harsh dispute over history and signing accords on energy and environmental protection.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met at the outset of Wen's visit to Tokyo, the first by a Chinese leader for nearly seven years. The meeting followed an icebreaking trip by Abe to China in October.

In a joint statement, the two leaders vowed to seek ways to jointly develop gas deposits in disputed waters, pursue the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and ''face up to history'' in building forward-looking relations.

''Our talks will be a big step toward building strategically and mutually beneficial relations,'' Abe told Wen at the start of their talks after welcoming him on a red carpet, despite the rain.

''That is the most important goal of my visit,'' said the Chinese leader, who was meeting Abe for the third time in six months. ''We need to talk about the details of what strategically and mutually beneficial relations would entail.''

The environmental accord called for the two countries to work on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change by 2013. China is in the Kyoto pact, but its emissions are a rising concern as the economy rapidly expands.

The other agreement committed Japan and China to cooperate on developing energy resources.

A joint declaration made a veiled reference to the bitter dispute over wartime history. China still nurses resentment over Japan's occupation of the country in the 1930s and '40s, while Japanese nationalists accuse Beijing of exaggerating accounts of atrocities for political gain.

''We resolve to face up to history and open up good, forward-looking relations toward a beautiful future,'' the statement said.

The visit was a high-profile follow-up to Abe's landmark summit with Chinese leaders in Beijing in October, which staunched a deterioration in ties that had troubled the region and Japan's top ally, the United States.

The neighbors have important economic incentives to cooperate. China, including Hong Kong, is Japan's No. 1 trading partner and Japanese companies are eager for access to Chinese consumers and labor. China, meanwhile, seeks Japanese investment.

While the emphasis was on cooperation, both leaders broached areas of concern.

Wen, for instance, warned that Sino-Japanese history could be an obstacle to improved ties if not handled with sensitivity.

Abe also urged China to be more transparent about its troubling surge in military spending. Wen assured Abe that Beijing would use its armed forces only for national security, officials said.

In addition, the Chinese premier said the dispute over gas deposits in the East China Sea remains an impediment toward fostering better relations. The two countries have not demarcated their exclusive economic zones in the area, and Japan has objected to Chinese exploitation of the deposits, saying that some of the gas belongs to Japan. Joint talks so far have achieved little.

Wen arrived just hours after the two countries signed an accord lifting Beijing's four-year ban on Japanese rice imports. China banned imports in 2003, claiming Japanese rice did not qualify for its tightened quarantine system.

The Japanese were eager to stifle talk of disagreements. When asked about reports that Wen considered the visit an ''ice-melting'' trip, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said: ''We're not aware of any remaining ice.''

The Chinese premier was scheduled to give a speech to parliament and meet with business leaders and the emperor on Thursday, and even join in a game of baseball with college students in western Japan on Friday before returning to China.

The visit represents a further easing of ties strained for several years by Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, who angered Beijing and other Asian neighbors with repeated visits to a Tokyo shrine honoring Japanese war dead, including executed war criminals.

Abe, however, moved quickly to repair ties with visits to China and South Korea in October, only weeks after taking office. Wen's appearance in Tokyo should set the stage for a subsequent visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Japan and perhaps another Abe trip to China.

The history issue, however, remains simmering below the surface. Earlier this week, Japanese nationalist textbook writers released an open letter to Wen, challenging him to furnish proof of the 1937 Nanking massacre, in which Japanese troops killed thousands of civilians in the central Chinese city. China claims the death toll reached 300,000.

Wen has also urged Japanese leaders not to go to the Yasukuni war shrine. Abe has not visited as prime minister, but refuses to say whether he will or not.