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Diplomatic Warming
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China and Japan's icy relations are melting in the warm April temperatures.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took an ice-breaking trip to Beijing in October. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who arrives in Japan today from the Republic of Korea, has called his visit to the Land of Cherry Blossoms ice-melting.

In the season of cherry blossoms 15 years ago, Wen visited Japan. But the current visit over the next three days is the first presence of a Chinese premier in Japan in seven years.

These two neighbors have shied away from each other for too long.

Trade between China and Japan has fallen victim to chilly bilateral relations. Japan, which used to be China's largest trade partner, fell to third behind the United States and European Union in 2004.

The feeling that the time has come for better bilateral relations is in the air. The two countries have been working on preparations that are expected to make Wen's Japan trip the start of a new period.

China and Japan have begun the seventh round of talks on the East China Sea oil gas field. Scholars from the two countries have met for the second time in Tokyo for a joint program studying their shared history.

It is believed that a kind of trust between Wen and Abe has been built thanks to their contact in Beijing in October 2006 and in Cebu, the Philippines, in January. During the Chinese premier's stay in Japan, the two countries will deal with specific issues.

Wen's visit may produce a document that will carry forward the two countries' aspirations to build a mutually beneficial strategic relationship.

In doing so, it will usher in a new era of bilateral relations.

It takes more than one cold day to freeze 3 feet of ice, as a Chinese saying goes. And the process of thawing can be equally slow.

It is unrealistic to expect that a single trip by a Chinese or Japanese leader will solve all the problems the two countries face.

Wen's Japan trip is important for continuing the exchange of visits between the top leaders of the two countries. In fact, this April visit is expected to help warm diplomatic relations and build the two peoples' confidence in expanding ties.

(China Daily April 11, 2007)

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