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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibet threat to Sino-Japanese rapprochement elations

May 8, 2008

By David McNeill in Tokyo
The Independent (UK)
May 7, 2008

The Chinese President, Hu Jintao, arrived in Tokyo yesterday on a historic mission to bring what he called a "warm spring of friendship" to a bilateral relationship battered by rows over history, territory – and dumplings.

The first visit to Japan by a Chinese leader for a decade was postponed last month after a dispute over imported food, and comes amid widespread unease over Beijing's crackdown in Tibet.

During their five-day visit, Mr Hu and his wife, Liu Yongqing, will meet Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, lecture students at a top private university, play table tennis with the Japanese Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda, and perhaps even revive China's famous "panda diplomacy".

Many hope that the Chinese leader will promise a replacement for Ling Ling, Japan's oldest giant panda who died in a Tokyo zoo last week. The unfortunate timing of Ling Ling's death has fuelled speculation that Beijing may suspend its ban on lending the animals to zoos because of the panda's endangered status.

Mr Fukuda would like his guest to make an exception, and provide the perfect symbol of warming ties. "I heard that the main reason people used to go to Ueno zoo was the panda. It would be nice if we had a panda there again," he said.

The Sino-Japan economic partnership is one of the world's strongest, worth $236bn (£119bn) in goods and services last year, making China Japan's largest trading partner. But the two sides have sometimes struggled to keep diplomatic ties from unravelling.

Relations fell to their lowest point three years ago when anger over Japanese history textbooks sparked riots across China. The former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi also angered Beijing by making an annual pilgrimage to the Yasukuni shrine, which venerates Japan's wartime leaders.

Mr Koizumi's successor, Shinzo Abe helped repair the damage with a trip to China in 2006, which was followed by an "ice-thawing" visit last year by the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao. The leaders hope to consolidate these gains with what Mr Fukuda calls a "great leap forward" in bilateral relations, but the summit is still laced with the political poison of Tibet.

Mr Hu's visit sparked a protest by Tibet supporters in Tokyo yesterday, with perhaps more to come.
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