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Zhu visit unlikely to dig up past

By Francesco Sisci, The Straits Times, 11 October 2000

War atrocities will not be the key issue during the Chinese Premier's trip to Japan, and a boost for bilateral cooperation is expected, experts say

BEIJING -- Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji will likely sweep historical problems under the carpet in a bid to improve Beijing's relations with Tokyo in his six-day visit to Japan this week.

This is especially so after the failure of President Jiang Zemin's visit to Japan in 1998 when the history of the Sino-Japanese war built a wall of distrust between the two sides.

Japanese diplomats and Chinese experts who spoke to The Straits Times expect a breakthrough from the trip which, they said, could boost diplomatic cooperation in the international arena and economic collaboration.

Professor Ma Junwei of the Institute of International Relations of China felt that Premier Zhu would not broach the issue of history, but would focus instead on the future of bilateral ties.

History will not be a very important issue in the visit, because we can't agree not to raise the issue again after a formal apology, he said.

Beijing has in the past insisted on a formal written apology from Japan for its wartime atrocities. Tokyo has agreed to grant the apology only if Beijing agreed not to raise the history issue again.

In a recent interview with a group of Beijing-based Japanese reporters, Premier Zhu spoke of two keys to solving the historical problem between China and Japan.

First, China must not stir up the Japanese people by citing the historical problem, and second, Japan must not forget its history of past aggression, he said.

A Japanese diplomat in Beijing said: The history of the Japanese invasion is very far from the experience of many younger Japanese people born after the war. They do not feel the responsibility of the war and do not understand the Chinese insistence on the issue.

Prof Ma also noted that Japan has been working at making Mr Zhu's trip a success, finding solutions to extending official financial aid to China that has topped 2,000 billion yen (S$32 billion) over the past 22 years.

Japanese diplomats said that the aid could be extended for several more years and would provide much-needed funds for China's underdeveloped western region.

Japanese newspapers have reported domestic complaints about such financial aid, noting that China is rich enough to grant aid to African countries and saying it had also not thanked Tokyo publicly for the loans.

According to Prof Ma, the issue was delicate because China has renounced claims to wartime compensation from Japan.

Premier Zhu has expressed gratitude for Japan's financial assistance but said Tokyo should not use this as a diplomatic card.

In the diplomatic arena, Japanese and Chinese experts are confident that the visit will produce major results. They also felt that the two sides should discuss ways to strengthen cooperation to prevent financial crises similar to that of 1997.

Reports said a telephone hotline will be set up between Beijing and Tokyo.