Page last updated at 18:02 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 19:02 UK

China's Hu in historic Japan trip

Hu Jintao and his wife Liu Yongqing, 06/05

Chinese President Hu Jintao has begun a five-day state visit to Japan, the first such trip in a decade.

He is expected to discuss trade, security and a dispute over undersea gas fields with Japanese PM Yasuo Fukuda - and play him at ping-pong.

After landing in Tokyo, Mr Hu said he hoped his visit would enhance friendship between the two nations.

Relations between the two countries have been through a difficult period over the past decade.

China suspended high-level contact with Japan from 2001 to 2006 during the premiership of Junichiro Koizumi, who made repeated visits to the Yasukuni war shrine, a place most Chinese believe glorifies militarism.

Mr Fukuda has tried to repair the damage by promising not to visit the shrine while he is in power and by calling for Japan to be humble about its past.

Poisoned dumplings

Mr Hu's visit will be the longest he has made to a single country, which analysts say is a sign of how important improving relations with Japan is to China.

It is also Mr Hu's first overseas trip since unrest broke out in Tibet in March - and several hundred activists protested in Tokyo before his arrival, holding banners calling for a "free Tibet".

Pro-Tibet activists in Tokyo
There was a small pro-Tibet protest, but no reports of any arrests
But correspondents say the Chinese president was greeted by a generally friendly crowd of well-wishers, who chanted "welcome, welcome" and offered him bouquets of flowers.

"Japan and China are both important countries in Asia and the world," Mr Hu said in a statement issued on arrival. "This will enhance friendship and co-operation in both countries."

Earlier, Mr Hu had said he hoped the visit would herald an "everlasting warm spring of friendship" between the two neighbours.

Mr Hu and Mr Fukuda met for dinner on Tuesday. An official told Japan's Kyodo news agency that the Chinese leader stressed to Mr Fukuda that both countries had the capacity to contribute to peace and stability in Asia and the world.

Another official told Kyodo that Mr Hu had agreed to loan Japan a pair of pandas to help to find a replacement for Ling Ling, a 22-year-old panda who died last week of heart failure at a Tokyo zoo.

Earlier, Mr Fukuda had said: "I heard that the main reason people used to go to Ueno Zoo was the panda. It would be nice if we have a panda there again."

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Tokyo says it is in the interest of each country to get along better with its near neighbour.

Ling Ling (January 2001)
A replacement for the late Ling Ling will be on Mr Fukuda's agenda
China wants Japanese technology and investment to help develop its economy further, while Japan wants to sell more of its products to the Chinese, particularly as demand in other important markets like the United States slows, our correspondent says.

China has overtaken the US as Japan's top trading partner, with bilateral trade increasing 12% last year to $236.6bn.

"I hope to have candid talks on how Japan and China can co-operate in a wide range of fields, which are not limited to bilateral relations but also include the peace and security of this region," Mr Fukuda said on Friday.

But there are still problems between the neighbours, our correspondent says, such as wrangles over oil and gas deposits under the East China Sea, over which both claim sovereignty.

There has also been a row over poisoned Chinese dumplings that left Japanese people ill, and Tibet, an issue that officials fear has the potential to cause a problem during the bilateral talks.

"It is inevitable to have some problems and it is normal to have different views during the development of bilateral relations," Mr Hu said before he left Beijing.

"What's more important is that the two sides should handle issues with a candid and sincere attitude, conduct friendly exchanges [and] seek common ground while shelving differences," he said.

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