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China sees 1st Japan warship since WWII

ZHANJIANG, China -- The first Japanese warship to visit China since World War II arrived Tuesday in a dramatic sign of improving relations between East Asia’s two major powers.

The 4,650-ton destroyer Sazanami, sailing from Kure in western Hiroshima prefecture and carrying earthquake relief supplies, steamed into the port city of Zhanjiang in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

Local residents said the port call was a promising sign of warming ties, but amid the words of welcome was an undertone of pride that China was increasingly dealing with Japan as an equal rather than a poor cousin. “Originally Japan had money and they bullied us, but now we’ve developed so much that even if they wanted to bully us, they couldn’t,” said Xing Chen, a local driver.

Sazanami’s voyage marks a return visit after the Chinese missile destroyer Shenzhen anchored in Japan late last year.

The vessel arrived Tuesday afternoon, Japanese officials told AFP.

It brought goods including 300 blankets, 2,600 pre-packaged meals and hygiene masks for victims of the devastating earthquake that struck southwest China’s Sichuan province on May 12.

The visit comes amid improving ties between the Asian giants after a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Chinese President Hu Jintao in early May in Tokyo. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters in Beijing the expected five-day visit would “help to enhance friendship and mutual trust between the two countries.”

In another sign of the thaw, Japan and China said earlier this month they had struck a breakthrough deal to jointly develop gas fields in the East China Sea, solving a dispute that had further strained ties.

Sino-Japanese relations have long been overshadowed by Japan’s brutal invasion of China in 1931 and its occupation through World War II, which resulted in the deaths of millions of Chinese.

“Before, the Japanese invaded us, but now we’re gradually accepting them because their attitude has become better,” said Wu Peizhi, a Zhanjiang resident having lunch near where the Sazanami was to dock.

“China is more powerful now. Japan is very small so we’re not afraid of them,” he said.

The defence forces of the two sides could now begin to cooperate more on natural disasters in an age of global warming, said Feng Zhaokui, a Japan specialist at the China Academy of Social Sciences.

“It will inevitably become an irreversible trend for the two countries’ military to strengthen cooperation in eliminating non-traditional threats and natural calamities,” he wrote in an opinion piece in the state China Daily. In Japan, the conservative Sankei newspaper said Tuesday that some welcome events in China — including a concert by a Japanese navy band — were suspended and coverage of the arrival by Japanese media was restricted.

It said this was because some “public opinion in China is against the Japanese destroyer’s visit.”

Takashi Sekine, a Japanese Defence Ministry spokesman, confirmed there was “a possibility” the concert could be cancelled.

“We are (considering) the possible reaction of the Chinese people. We need to consider the situation,” he said.

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