CEBU, Philippines, Jan 14 - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Japan in
April, officials said on Sunday, in the clearest sign yet that relations between
Asia's biggest powers are on the mend.
Wen and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo used a regional summit in the
central Philippines to firm up a timeframe for China's first state trip to Japan
in over six years and to forge closer ties with South Korea.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which wants to establish
itself as a world player, urged the three countries to find fresh ideas to
resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis and remove the threat of an atomic arms
race in the region.
In their first trilateral meeting in two years, China, Japan and South Korea
agreed to build on their thawing relations, saying they would further promote
trade and energy security and regularly consult each other on key issues.
Relations with Japan's neighbours hit a nadir due to Abe's predecessor,
Junichiro Koizumi, repeatedly visiting Tokyo's Yasukuni's war shrine, seen by
critics as glorifying Japan's World War II militarism.
A Japanese government official said Wen and Abe made no mention of the shrine
at their talks on the central resort island of Cebu, where leaders from 16
countries have been welcomed in a whirl of Filipino pageantry.
Wen invited Abe to visit China in the second half of the year, an offer the
Japanese leader said he would consider depending on the outcome of their
discussions in April.
The last time a Chinese leader visited Japan was former Premier Zhu Rongji in
Both countries were competing for influence with ASEAN, which accelerated its
target date for economic integration to 2015 and agreed to become a rules-based
bloc with teeth, a bold departure for an organisation frequently derided as a
The Philippines, which holds ASEAN's rotating chairmanship, raised the
spectre of a regional nuclear arms race in talks about Pyongyang's nuclear
ambitions, which have encouraged Tokyo to start a debate on whether to drop its
own ban on developing an atomic arsenal.
"It may be tempting for Japan to consider becoming a nuclear weapon state,
particularly after the nuclear test by DPRK (North Korea) last 9 October,"
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told Abe.
"But the possession of nuclear weapons by more countries in our region will
only lead to greater risks, not less. North Korea's nuclear weapons programme
therefore cannot be allowed to stand."
Bedecked in pearls and a cream, floor-length Filipino gown, Arroyo hosted a
gala dinner for the 16 Asian leaders on Sunday night.
Beauty queens and a Broadway star entertained the VIPs, who wore traditional
Barong shirts made of pineapple fibres and were fed lobster and seafood salad
served on black mother-of-pearl shells.
Abe, fresh from a tour of Europe where he pitched a more assertive diplomatic
stance, highlighted Tokyo's desire to play a more prominent security role in the
region with an agreement to support Southeast Asian maritime security.
Wen sealed a trade pact with ASEAN and said both sides would continue to
advance their "strategic partnership" this year with discussions on a possible
code of conduct for the South China Sea, a regional flashpoint due to competing
A wider meeting, including the heads of India, Australia and New Zealand will
be held on Monday, when the 16 leaders aim to sign an energy security pact that
will examine the possibility of a regional fuel stockpile.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the
Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- countries that span the
political and economic spectrum.