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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Murayama Calls for Better Japan-China Ties

BEIJING -- Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama marked the first day of a visit to China on Wednesday by touring the site of a 1937 clash that triggered all-out war between the two countries. He called the 50th anniversary of the war's end a new starting point in ties.

However, Murayama stopped short of apologizing for Japan's bloody invasion of China in the 1930s and the 1940s war, and his talks with Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng revealed disagreements over nuclear-weapons testing, Taiwan and economic ties.

Murayama, 71, became the first Japanese prime minister to visit the Marco Polo Bridge on the outskirts of Beijing where Japan used an exchange of fire with Chinese troops in July, 1937, as a pretext to launch a full invasion of China.

"On the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, I have been able to visit a site representative of the grave damage inflicted upon the Chinese people," Murayama said.

"Thinking of past history, I renew my commitment to future peace," he said at a war museum near the bridge.

Japan was ready to treat the 50th anniversary as a new starting point, Xinhua news agency quoted him as telling Li in talks on close, if often stormy, relations.

Murayama arrived in Beijing late Tuesday for a five-day official visit.

In talks with Li and the Communist Party chief and state president, Jiang Zemin, Murayama stressed that Japan wanted to learn from its past mistakes to build peaceful ties with China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Chen Jian praised Murayama's visit to the war museum as of positive significance because he showed a "sensible attitude to history."

Li reminded Murayama that there were different attitudes in Japan toward its aggressive history, Chen said.

"This shows there are still militarist forces in Japan, so efforts should be made to stop this tendency so that the historical tragedy will not happen again," he quoted Li as saying.

It was because of these differences of opinion that Murayama made no explicit apology for the war.

The prime minister's fragile coalition government remains bitterly divided over the issue.

On other issues, Murayama asked China in his meeting with Li to halt nuclear testing in line with the other declared nuclear powers -- the United States, Russia, Britain and France. Li declined to reply, said a Murayama aide who briefed reporters.

However, Li said China was moving to approve the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which expires this year, the aide said.

The United Nations is currently debating renewal of the treaty.

Li also warned Murayama to shun high-level political contacts with Taiwan and to limit Taipei's participation in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Osaka in November.

Murayama and Li pledged to strengthen economic ties after trade doubled between 1991 and 1994. Japan's Foreign Ministry said trade totalled $46.24 billion in 1994.

Li repeated Chinese concerns about the increasing burden of repaying Japan's official yen loans, which have skyrocketed with the yen's appreciation.

China has borrowed a total of 1.5 trillion yen ($18.7 billion) since 1979 and is set to receive another 580 billion yen for the 1996 to 2000 period.

"We hope Japan will pay attention to this and help to work out a reasonable solution," Li told Murayama. He did not specifically ask for debt relief.

Murayama was due to leave Beijing on Thursday for the ancient city of Xi'an and is to visit Shanghai before returning to Tokyo on Saturday.