By: Our Correspondent

It is suddenly looking likely that
solid achievement could result from the Hu Jintao-Yasuo Fukuda summit
in Tokyo, although it has little to do with the fundamentals of
China-Japan relations. Both leaders need the bump that success would
bring, if for different reasons.

While the frosty ties are a thing of
the past that dominated during much of the administration of former
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi – who insisted on annual
visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine where Japanese war
criminals are buried — the two Asian giants are still rattled by
territorial disputes, the “questions of history” and the
perennial fight over who is Asia’s top dog. Most recently,
poison-laced Chinese dumplings on sale in supermarkets all over Japan
highlighted yet another version of the “China threat”
among the Japanese public.

Nonetheless, possibilities for a
breakthrough in Sino-Japanese relations have significantly increased
over the past month due to setbacks the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
administration has suffered because of its suppression of rioting
protesters in Tibet – and its monumental mishandling of
Olympics-related propaganda. Leaders of major Western countries have
threatened to boycott the opening ceremony of the Summer Games. And
the outburst of nationalistic if not xenophobic sentiments by Chinese
in more than 20 countries has thrown into the spotlight the regime’s
hostility against many aspects of globalization.

Chinese officials and the official
media have over the past few weeks come up with a series of upbeat
assessments of the Hu-Fukuda talks. While meeting Beijing-based
Japanese correspondents on Sunday, Hu said he was confident of a
"warm spring for the friendship between
the two peoples.” The president indicated that he is
keen to “enhance mutual trust, friendship
and cooperation, make progress for the future, and comprehensively
push forward bilateral strategic and reciprocal relations.”

Hu added that
the “strategic relationship of mutual benefit” between
both countries would be consolidated. Concerning sovereignty disputes
over the East China Sea – which is said to straddle huge hoards
of natural gas – Hu exuded confidence that both sides could
find mutually agreeable methods to “adequate resolve the
issue.”

Diplomatic
analysts in Beijing and Tokyo have noted that Hu steered clear of the
“question of history,” shorthand for demands that the
Japanese leadership stop offending “the feelings of the Chinese
people” through means such as embellishing the atrocities of
the Japanese Imperial Army. Instead, senior Chinese officials and
commentators have focused on the positive elements in bilateral
links.

The
official China News Service quoted veteran diplomat Wang Taiping as
saying that 2008 would be a “leap-forward development year”
for bilateral ties. Wang described Hu’s trip as a “journey
full of the promise of spring.” He added the top leader would
send his hosts this important message: “China will bring
something good to Japan, become Japan’s partner, and
acknowledge and handle Sino-Japanese relations from a strategic high
point.”

Former
Chinese ambassador to Tokyo Xu Dunxin told the Chinese media that
bilateral ties were gravitating toward an upward, benevolent cycle.
He said he did not think a drastic deterioration would happen even if
another “hawkish” politician like Koizumi were to become
LDP leader. “What made possible the ‘ice-cold period’
during the Koizumi era was the product of particular personalities
under particular historical circumstances,” he said.

Political analysts close to the talks
say negotiators from both sides were close to hitting on a
“profit-sharing formula” for gas that will be extracted
from under the East China Sea by a joint-venture company representing
both countries. They added that President Hu, who appears likely to
promise to give Japan one more panda, is keen to have the Japanese
leadership reiterate its stance on the “one China policy.”

On the Japanese side, items on
Tokyo’s wish list include seeking Chinese support for the
country’s securing a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
Host Fukuda also has reasons aplenty to make the Japan-China summit
a success. Since taking over from the hapless Shinzo Abe last year,
Fukuda’s popularity ratings have plummeted to 20 percent, a
record low for a Japan head of government. A successful meeting with
the leader of a country that is the biggest buyer of Japanese exports
could go some way toward strengthening Fukuda’s domestic
standing.

After all, Abe visited Beijing within
10 days of his taking over from Koizumi in September 2006 – and
his “ice-breaking China trip” has since been deemed the
high point of his lackluster and short-lived administration.