CHINA / National

Ping-pong to impove China-Japan ties
Updated: 2006-04-04 09:00

China is hoping the "ping pong diplomacy," which helped ease relations with the United States in the 1970s, will help improve China-Japan relations, which have reached their lowest point due to the Yasukuni Shrine issue.

Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan (R) is presented a table tennis bat by Koji Kimura, general director of the Japan Table Tennis Association in Beijing, April 3, 2006. [Xinhua]

"The non-governmental friendly exchanges, including sports or ping-pong exchanges, are very important (in bilateral relations)," said Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan.

Tang made the remarks in meeting with a group of Japanese table tennis veterans, who are in Beijing to reunite with their Chinese "rivals" to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1956 world championship.

"I hope the Japanese sports circle will play a constructive role in increasing understanding between the two peoples and pull China-Japan relations back to the track of healthy and stable development," said Tang.

In 1956, the Chinese table tennis team was invited to take part in the 23rd world championship held in Tokyo, the first sports exchange between the two countries since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

"From historical perspectives, this is indeed a big event in the history of China-Japan sports exchanges," Tang said.

"The sports exchanges have made delightful outcomes and played a positive role in promoting mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples since the normalization of bilateral relations," said Tang.

Sino-Japanese ties have been soured by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 class-A WWII war criminals.

The leaders of the two countries have halted exchange visits for more than four years, ever since Koizumi began paying homage to the Yasukuni Shrine soon after he took office in 2001.

Last Friday, Chinese President Hu Jintao hosted a rare meeting with the heads of seven Japan-China friendship organizations, led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, reiterating China's stance on promoting China-Japan friendship and the Yasukuni Shrineissue.

"I am ready to hold talks with Japanese leaders as long as they make a clear-cut decision to pay no more visits to the Yasukuni Shrine," Hu said.

Hu also urged the non-governmental sectors of the two countries to help ease bilateral ties, saying "the strive for a pleasant prospect of China-Japan ties can not be separated from the extensive support and active participation of the two peoples as well as the arduous efforts made by the friends of friendly organizations in the two countries."

China and Japan, the two neighboring countries, have succeeded in promoting bilateral relations through non-governmental exchanges in the past years.

"Now it is imperative to boost people-to-people exchanges to mend relations," said Feng Zhaokui, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"The Chinese government and people, as always, attach great importance to China-Japan relations," said Tang. "Despite many difficulties, China never changes its fundamental principles of honoring China-Japan friendship."

"We are ready to make joint efforts with the Japanese side to enhance friendly exchanges between the two peoples and carry out pragmatic cooperation in various fields," Tang added.

Koji Kimura, general director of the Japan Table Tennis Association and a veteran ping-pong player, said he will pass on to the next generation the friendship cultivated in the past 50 years in an effort to contribute to the hard-won bilateral relations.

Nearly 80 percent of the Japanese believe that their country needs to improve relations with China, according to a survey released by the Japanese Foreign Ministry on March 29.