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Japan’s Akihito Ends Historic and Cordial Visit to China

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko returned home to Tokyo on Wednesday, concluding without untoward incident the first visit to China by a Japanese emperor.

“I felt that most of the Chinese people hope for friendly relations between our two peoples,” Akihito said at a news conference in Shanghai on the eve of his departure.

“If people deal sincerely with each other heart to heart, I believe borders can be bridged.”

The imperial couple were protected by tight security throughout their six-day visit, which took them to Beijing, the ancient Tang Dynasty capital of Xian and the bustling commercial city of Shanghai. Ordinary Chinese with whom they came into brief contact had all been carefully selected by authorities.

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Police had warned university students in Beijing not to stage anti-Japanese protests during the visit. On the day of Akihito’s arrival, police in Shanghai detained Bao Ge, an outspoken activist.

Employed as a medical researcher, Bao had threatened to immolate himself if the emperor left China without apologizing for the destruction Japan wreaked upon China before and during World War II.

The imperial couple were treated with friendly politeness by officials at all levels, headed by President Yang Shangkun and Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin. The Chinese media gave low-key but uniformly positive coverage.

The general atmosphere was captured in remarks made by Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong after he hosted the imperial couple on a Saturday visit to the Great Wall.

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Asked what sort of an impression the emperor made on him, Chen ignored the question and replied with what amounted to the party line: “The emperor is visiting China as a representative of the Japanese people. He’s very friendly to China. We very much welcome him.”

The imperial tour appears to have succeeded in bringing Sino-Japanese relations to a new level of diplomatic closeness. It also seems certain to encourage closer economic links between Japan and China.

“The visit to China by the emperor and empress was significant for promoting mutual understanding and friendship between the people of the two nations,” Japanese Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe, who accompanied the imperial couple on their tour, said in a statement issued before leaving Shanghai.

There is much lingering bitterness in China over the devastation caused in this country by the Japanese army from 1931 to 1945, when at least 10 million Chinese are estimated to have died as a direct result of Japan’s invasion and occupation of large parts of China.

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In a banquet speech the night of his arrival, Akihito acknowledged that Japan “inflicted severe suffering upon the Chinese people. This is a deep sorrow to me.”

On their trip to Xian, the imperial couple focused on the glories of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when Japan adopted many elements of Chinese culture.

Their itinerary included a stop at the Shaanxi Provincial Museum to view ancient calligraphy carvings, including one stone tablet with two Chinese characters.

These characters, pronounced heisei in Japanese, resonate today in the culture of modern Japan--and in Sino-Japanese relations--because Akihito, when he became emperor three years ago, chose Heisei as the title for his reign. It means “achieving peace.”

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