Japanese friendship delegation meets Chinese officials

A Japanese goodwill delegation led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto began meetings with Chinese officials Friday in an effort ease strained relations between the two sides.

The three-day visit comes at the invitation of the China-Japan Friendship Association.

"This visit signifies the positive attitude China takes on promoting Sino-Japanese friendly exchange and cooperation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular briefing Thursday.

The group, made up of members of organizations focused on strengthening bilateral ties, will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan and members of private organizations.

"It is Mr. Hashimoto's wish to get rid of difficulties between China-Japan relations and find a way to get back on the right track," a Beijing-based Japanese official who spoke on customary condition of anonymity said Friday.

Despite strong economic ties, tensions have been brewing over a range of issues, including clashes over their wartime history, China's growing military power and rights to undersea gas and oil deposits that lie in disputed territory.

Another sore point is repeated visits by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 2.5 million war dead, including convicted war criminals from World War II, reports the AP.


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