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Wednesday, November 25, 1998 Published at 11:40 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

China and Japan's love-hate relationship

Not the first time Jiang Zemin has visited Japan

By China Analyst James Miles

China's official media have been describing the visit to Japan by President Jiang Zemin as the first ever by a Chinese head of state.

It is a description that implies the two countries are ready to upgrade their ties to demonstrate mutual goodwill in this 20th anniversary year of the China-Japan Peace and Friendship Treaty.

But the reality is somewhat different.

Juliet Hindell reports on Jiang Zemin's arrival
President Jiang's trip is indeed the first by a Chinese head of state. But the post of head of state is a less important one in China's political hierarchy than that of Communist Party chief.

President Jiang visited Japan in the latter capacity six years ago to mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

The same year saw the first ever visit to China by a Japanese emperor.

The 1992 exchange of visits was arguably a more significant milestone in the development of ties than the one about to take place.

Damage limitation

There is no sign that President Jiang's decision to make the first Chinese presidential visit to Japan signifies any real improvement in bilateral relations. On the contrary, concerns about each other's military and economic development continue to grow

President Jiang does not want to antagonise Japan, which despite differences between the two sides is still a crucial economic partner.

But memories in China of Japanese wartime atrocities run deep, and President Jiang has made the extraction of an apology from Japan a top priority for his trip.

China also wants Japan to promise that it will not interfere in mainland China's relations with Taiwan.

China has commented with growing alarm on what it sees as evidence of a new dimension emerging in the military relationship between Japan and the United States.

Beijing believes this relationship would now, in effect, ensure Japanese support for the United States should Washington and Beijing come to blows over Taiwan.

President Jiang's trip will be overshadowed too by the Asian financial crisis. Earlier this year, Beijing accused Tokyo of purposely allowing the yen to weaken. The yen's slide put pressure on China's currency and hastened the fall in Chinese exports to Japan.

China has said that President Jiang's trip will be of great, immediate and far-reaching historical significance for Sino-Japanese relations. In reality, however, the two countries will continue to view each other warily.

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