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Chinese president faces criticism over Tibet in Japan

May 11, 2008

The Associated Press
May 8, 2008 Filed at 6:10 a.m. ET

TOKYO (AP) -- China's president faced hundreds of protesters and sharp criticism of his Tibet policy outside an elite Tokyo university Thursday, signaling the tensions underlining a visit meant to showcase warm Japan-China ties.

Inside Waseda University, President Hu Jintao urged Beijing and Tokyo to put their bitter wartime history behind them -- underlining efforts at bolstering ties between Asia's two giants.

The president's comments on the wartime past were crucial, as Beijing has often accused Tokyo of failing to properly atone for its military conquests on the Asian mainland in the 1930s and 40s.

In a 30-minute address at Waseda, Hu mentioned Japan's "militaristic invasion of China," but that it should not be dwelled upon.

"This unfortunate history not only caused tremendous suffering to the Chinese people but also gravely hurt the Japanese people," he said. "It's important for us to remember history, but this does not mean we should hold grudges.''

But as Hu spoke, protests thundered outside. Hundreds of riot police circled the venue, keeping chanting pro-Tibet demonstrators about 100 yards away. Minor scuffles broke out, and several protesters were seen being led away by officers.

Aiming to minimize clashes, authorities divided a smaller pocket of pro-China protesters waving Chinese flags from two larger crowds of demonstrators bearing Tibetan flags and shouting anti-Chinese slogans.

While the trip was aimed at increasing warm feelings between Japan and China, Hu has been dogged by reminders of the international criticism of Beijing's handling of March's unrest in Tibet.

Before his speech at Waseda, a right-leaning alumni group demanded that it be canceled, calling him ''the chief executive of oppression over the right to ethnic self-determination and human rights of the Tibetans'' in a statement signed by several dozen alumni.

A breakfast meeting with former Japanese prime ministers also was not entirely tension free. Missing from the attendance list was Junichiro Koizumi, who strained ties repeatedly with Beijing by visiting Yasukuni Shrine, which many see as a symbol of Japan's militarist past, during his 2001-2006 tenure in office.

Despite such bumps, Hu's five-day visit to Japan has gone a long way in stressing good ties and cooperation between the two countries. Hu arrived Tuesday, becoming the first Chinese president to visit Tokyo in 10 years.

At Waseda, he called for Japan and China to work together "hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder" to rejuvenate Asia and bring about world development and peace.

"The two countries should be partners, not competitors," he said, addressing a country that has watched China's spectacular expansion with wariness. ''One's growth can be the other's opportunity, not a threat.''

On Wednesday, Hu and Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda met for a meticulously choreographed summit. The two pledged to work together on everything from climate change to North Korea and territorial disputes, with Fukuda hinting -- without elaborating -- that the neighbors were on the verge of settling a spat over maritime gas deposits.

They also announced that Tokyo and Beijing would hold annual summits to prevent a recurrence of the decade-long gap in visits to Japan by Chinese presidents since Jiang Zemin's rocky trip to Tokyo in 1998.

But there appeared to be little substance to the talks.

The most concrete agreement so far was over pandas. Hu offered to loan a pair of pandas to Japan following the death last week of 22-year-old giant panda Ling Ling at Tokyo's largest zoo, and Fukuda thanked him.

The two sides' determination to emphasize the positive illustrated how economics has trumped political rivalry.

China, with Hong Kong included, is Japan's largest trading partner, having eclipsed the United States. Bilateral trade reached $237 billion last year, according to Chinese statistics.
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