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Tokyo chief to try 'city diplomacy' with China

TOKYO -- The new head of Tokyo promised Wednesday to help mend Japan's strained ties with China through city-level diplomacy, saying he could help with Beijing's air pollution and demographic challenges from its one-child policy.

Governor Yoichi Masuzoe was elected last month to head one of the world's biggest cities with backing from the ruling conservative party. He replaced Naoki Inose, who resigned after a year due to a loans scandal.

The 65-year-old Masuzoe, who previously served as Japan's welfare minister, as well as a political television pundit and international politics professor, said he wants to do his part to mend rocky Japan-China relations.

The two neighbors are locked in a bitter territorial row, with the relationship further soured by resentment over Japan's imperialist expansion across Asia in the first half of the 20th century.

“The bilateral relationship with (China) is so bad, as you know. Foreign diplomacy is almost broken,” Masuzoe said in his first briefing with foreign media.

“I like to improve it by helping with their environmental problems and also social welfare. I am not a foreign minister, nor prime minister. But at least, as the governor of Tokyo, I can do something,” he added.

Until 2012 Tokyo had been governed for 13 years by Shintaro Ishihara, a hard-charging nationalist known for his anti-China views who led a campaign to nationalize islands at the centre of the Japan-China territorial dispute.

On Wednesday Masuzoe said he would like to cooperate with Beijing on tackling the city's notoriously bad air pollution — a problem that affects many Chinese cities. Tokyo's air is relatively clean, despite its huge size with about 30 million people in the greater metropolitan area and a maze of expressways.

Tokyo's chief added that he would work with Beijing on welfare programs as China faces a demographic struggle, partly owing to its one-child policy.

Japan also has a rapidly ageing population which is straining the public purse, while a low birth rate means fewer younger people to support them.

On Wednesday Masuzoe said he wanted to visit Beijing “as soon as possible” to learn from China's experience hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics, including how to avoid the under-use of stadiums after the event.

Tokyo is preparing to host the 2020 Games and faces a massive task in building new venues and updating the city's ageing infrastructure.

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