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Ship comes riding high tide in China-Japan ties
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A Japanese navy warship is set to visit China tomorrow.

The visit by the Sazanami destroyer is a return call to port by the Japanese side after the Chinese missile destroyer Shenzhen visited Japan in November.

The decision for an exchange of visits by the two countries' warships was clinched as early as in October 2000 by then Premier Zhu Rongji and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. But due to former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine that honors Class-A World War II criminals together with the ordinary war dead, the efforts to push forward the accord came to a standstill.

When former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in September 2006, sabotaged China-Japan relations started to improve. At a meeting between the two defense ministers in August 2007, the two countries reached an agreement on the exchange of mutual visits by ships. It was agreed that a Chinese navy vessel would visit Japan in November and in return, a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (SDF) warship would call in on China within 2008.

In a formal goodwill visit to Japan, the Chinese Shenzhen destroyer arrived at a dock in Tokyo on November 28, the first time by a People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy vessel. During the visit, the Shenzhen destroyer commanders held a series of exchange activities with Japanese high-level military officials, and they also visited the school and base of the Self-Defense Forces. A football match and a tug-of-war were held between the two countries' military officers and soldiers.

The Japan visit by the Chinese ship showcased to the Japanese people the image of the Chinese troops as the "peace army" and dealt a forceful counterattack upon the "China threat" theory disseminated by a handful of Japanese with ulterior motives.

The exchange of mutual visits by the two countries' warships not only constitutes a part of the military exchanges between the two neighbors, but also serves as a kind of special diplomatic maneuvers they have taken.

Since diplomatic relations were normalized in 1972, official and people-to-people ties between China and Japan have made continuous development in political, economic, cultural and defense areas, with the exception of the 2001-05 period, during which the two countries suffered a chill in their political relations. As the security issue remains a top concern between the Chinese and Japanese peoples, it thus appears to be of special significance for the two countries to strengthen defense exchanges and enhance mutual understanding on the security issue.

Since the chilled political relations between the two countries thawed in October 2006, the defense exchanges between them have remained increasingly active. In August 2007, General Cao Gangchuan, Chinese Defense Minister, paid a visit to Japan. In September, China invited Japanese military observers to its live-ammunition military exercise by a motorized infantry division, the first time that Japanese military officials were invited to a Chinese military exercise. In October, a PLA symphony orchestra staged a performance in Tokyo. And a month later, China's Shenzhen destroyer paid the first and also a belated visit to Japan.

The five-day visit to China by Japanese Sazanami is only one of a string of defense exchange events planned by the two countries. To enhance strategic mutual trust, it is predicted that bilateral exchanges between them in this area will further expand and deepen.

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