DALIAN: Japan's call for an East Asian Community similar to the European Union has been welcomed by a senior Chinese official.
Supporters of the idea say it will accelerate the process of regional integration.
"This (the formation of the East Asian Community) can be listed as a long-term goal in developing the Sino-Japanese relationship while striving to build up mutual trust," said Liu Hongcai, vice-minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
Liu was speaking yesterday at the fifth Beijing-Tokyo Forum, an annual event, organized by China Daily and nonprofit Japanese organization Genron NPO. The forum was aimed at improving bilateral relations and deepening mutual understanding.
The nongovernmental forums are held alternatively in China and Japan.
But, while Liu welcomed the idea, he said the two countries should first focus on cooperating over energy, the environment and telecommunications.
And he called for the nations to strengthen their coordination in regional and international affairs.
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had suggested the idea of forming an East Asian Community after taking office and naming his new cabinet in September.
Hatoyama sent a message of support to the forum, noting that the nations were already close neighbors, with 5 million people traveling between the countries each year.
And he pointed out that China is now Japan's largest trading partner.
But, despite the closeness, he said "there is much room for improvement" in terms of the sentiments of people on the streets of both nations toward one another.
"Mutual respect, based on the recognition of differences between the two nations, together with dialogue and the expansion of cooperation, will bring a broader horizon to Sino-Japanese relations," Hatoyama said.
Liu's response to Hatoyama's call for an East Asian Community followed recent comments from Premier Wen Jiabao, who said, during a visit to Thailand, the nations should strive for that long-term goal.
The prospect of an East Asian Community has reportedly been mentioned at some of the forum's sessions - which include such topics as politics, economics, media and security.
The Beijing-Tokyo Forum is being attended by more than 100 delegates from the two countries.
"In some ways, I am here to listen to the feedback to the ideas of our new prime minister," said Kozo Watanabe, the highest advisor to the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.
In addition to Hatoyama's congratulatory message, Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo sent a letter of support to delegates at the forum, which has as its theme "Sino-Japanese Cooperation During the Global Economic Crisis".
"China and Japan should promote economic and trade ties with more concrete measures to address the common challenges posed by the global financial crisis," said Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Information Office.
Zhao Qizheng, director of the Foreign Affairs Committee under the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said China-Japan ties had risen to a new high following eight meetings between Hatoyama and both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen in the past two months.
"Such frequency of high-level bilateral meetings has hardly ever been seen in our history. We need to keep up the momentum," said Zhao, who added that China can learn from its neighbor.
"Japan has experience in some important areas. It has dealt with US protectionism over the years and we should learn from your country," Zhao said at the forum.
He added that Japan and China should stick to their commitment to avoid bringing in protectionist measures, despite the pressure of the global financial crisis.
Zhao also urged both countries to speed up regional financial cooperation and economic restructuring and work closely on the fight against climate change.
He pointed out that the region was already an important world powerhouse - with China, South Korea and Japan accounting for 17 percent of the planet's economic output.
"We are making efforts to build up East Asia into the third global economic pole, after the US and Europe."
Chen Haosu, president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, said integration in Asia has already begun. But Chen warned that full integration may take longer in Asia than it took in Europe.
"I believe that Asian integration is beginning and, if China and Japan can join hands and take the lead in the endeavor, we can achieve the goal in the shortest possible time," said Chen.