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The Japanese prime minister has begun a four-day official visit
The Japanese prime minister has begun a four-day official visit to China believed to be aimed at improving relations between the two countries, the Xinhua news agency said on Thursday.

During the trip, which analysts believe will boost once-chilled relations between the two Southeast Asian countries Yasuo Fukuda will meet with Chinese leader Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, and visit Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius.

The agency quoted a Japanese government spokesman as saying Japan hopes the visit will "bring spring to Japan-China relations."

In 2004-2006, relations between the two countries were virtually broken off after the then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine honoring Japan's war dead, including war criminals. The shrine is considered by China to be a symbol of Japan's military imperialism.

Relations only improved after an "ice-breaking" visit to China by then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in October 2006, followed by intense cultural, economic and political exchanges, including the first visit by a Chinese naval vessel to Japan since 1949.

The visit by China's premier to Japan this April also helped to strengthen economic and political ties.

Trade between the two countries hit around $200 billion in 2006 and continued to rise in 2007. China is Japan's largest trade partner, while Japan is China's third-largest trade partner.

The agency quoted Fukuda as saying before his departure he wanted to "raise relations with China to a new level."

Fukuda will also help to coordinate the Chinese leader's visit to Japan next spring.


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