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Chinese chief ‘melts ice’ in Japan

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Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao plays ball with Ritsumeikan University's baseball team at a stadium in Kyoto, Japan, on Friday.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao plays ball with Ritsumeikan University’s baseball team at a stadium in Kyoto, Japan, on Friday.

Issei Kato, Associated Press

KYOTO, Japan — A smiling Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sipped green tea and declared his trip to Japan a success Friday, wrapping up a three-day tour aimed at cementing rejuvenated ties and drawing Japanese investment in China.

Wen, putting finishing touches on the first visit by a Chinese premier in nearly seven years, traveled to the ancient capital of Kyoto after two days in Tokyo during which he called for improved relations between Asia's top two economies.

"Many Japanese people have said that the objective of the ice-melting trip has been achieved," Wen said before leaving for Kyoto. Kyodo News agency quoted him as adding, however: "I cannot say all problems have been solved. We need more time."

Indeed, Wen's trip was heavy on broad statements of goodwill and atmospherics but short on concrete solutions to the two countries' enduring conflicts over wartime history and maritime territory.

The visit followed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's groundbreaking trip to Beijing in October, a major step by Tokyo to repair ties that had seriously deteriorated during the 2001-06 term of his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi.

Wen managed to set a relaxed, friendly tone for the talks. He went for morning jogs while in Tokyo, performed tai chi poses for the cameras and used every opportunity to declare a new era of cooperation with Japan.

Arriving in Kyoto, Wen attended a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in a parlor with the phrase "Mutual Respect" written in calligraphy on the wall. Later he laid flowers at a memorial to late Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai in Kyoto, proclaiming him a "pioneer" in forging ties between the two nations.

"Relations between our two countries will continue to strengthen," Wen said. "I hope that soon the flower of friendship will bloom."

Wen also had plans to toss a baseball around with college students and have dinner with business executives in the area before heading back to Beijing in the evening.

The two countries' problems were never far below the surface, however.

In a speech to parliament on Thursday, Wen urged lawmakers not to forget their past aggressions, referring to Japanese invasions of China in the 1930s and 40s that left the country a shambles.

At the same time, Wen appeared more conciliatory than previous visiting Chinese leaders, acknowledging Japan's past apologies over the war, while urging Tokyo to turn that contrition into concrete actions.

Koichi Nakano, political scientist at Tokyo's Sophia University, said the two sides had more work to do, but that the trip appeared to have kept the momentum moving in the right direction.

"Both the Chinese and the Japanese sides wanted to turn the visit into a success in the sense that they didn't want any major disruptions," he said. "At the same time, I don't think it's accurate to say that good will is completely restored or that both sides fully trust one another."

Contributing: Kana Inagaki