Our special coverage of the closest race for years
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16 May 2008 09:57 GMT | Asia, China, Japan
Wen Jiabao, right, said the visit marked "the springof China-Japan relations" [AFP]
The call came as Yasuo Fukuda began a four day visit to Beijing holding talks on Friday with Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.
The summit is taking place as both sides look to strengthen economic ties with talks in the coming days expected to focus on a range of divisive issues, including disputed territory and the two countries' wartime history.
"In the long history of our relations, there has never been a time when Japan and China has had more influence or responsibilities in Asia and the world," Fukuda told Wen at a joint news conference with the Chinese premier.
"We face a big opportunity going forward."
For China's part Wen also praised what he said were improving bilateral relations between the two countries after years of often frosty ties.
"Prime Minister Fukuda said the spring has come in our relations and after two-and-a-half hours of talks, I truly feel that the spring of China-Japan relations has indeed arrived," he said.
Wen confirmed that Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, will visit Japan next year, making the first such trip by a Chinese head of state since Jiang Zemin in 1998.
"Its significance is truly great," Wen said.
'Creating the future'
Talks will aim to overcome several areas of dispute between the two countries [AFP]
Fukuda was himself due to hold talks with the Chinese president later on Friday.
Earlier the two countries signed an agreement to promote scientific and technological cooperation to combat climate change.
Another agreement called for the launching of a joint project to study and develop magnetic nuclear fission.
The visit by the Japanese prime minister is being seen as signalling a further shift in relations between the long-time Asian rivals.
"We want to cooperate with you in creating the future of Asia and the world," Fukuda said as he arrived in Beijing.
Among the topics being discussed will be a long-running dispute over claims to gas reserves in the East China Sea.
China has begun piping gas from an area close to what Japan sees as its own economic zone.
Japanese diplomats said Tokyo and Beijing have made "last-ditch" efforts to reach a compromise in the gas field dispute, but it is unclear whether Fukuda's visit to Beijing will bring the two sides any closer to a deal.
"Negotiations are still under way at various levels. But no agreement has been reached," a Japanese diplomat told Reuters.
In April diplomats from China and Japan agreed to resolve the gas row by autumn of this year, but 11 rounds of talks have failed to produce results.
Speaking ahead of Fukuda's arrival, Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, was upbeat about the visit saying Beijing planned to "follow the spirit of shelving differences for common development so we can solve the issue at an early date."
Relations between China and Japan have enjoyed a marked thaw in recent years after a long period of icy relations.
China cut high-level contacts with Japan during the 2001-2006 premiership of Junichiro Koizumi due to his visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, which venerates Japan's war dead, including several convicted war criminals.
Fukuda's predecessor, Shinzo Abe, broke the diplomatic freeze by avoiding visits to the shrine and paying an ice-breaking visit to Beijing in October last year within days of taking office.
Fukuda meanwhile has pledged that he also will not visit the Yasukuni shrine while in office, and has taken a conciliatory stance calling for Japan to be humble about its past.
During his visit Fukuda will also give a speech at the prestigious Peking University, and visit Qufu, the birthplace of the Chinese philosopher Confucius.
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