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Japan's PM reaches out to China on North Korea

By Scott Mcdonald

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Dec. 25 2011 7:15 p.m. MST

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, center right, is escorted by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to inspect a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011. Noda arrived in Beijing on Sunday for talks focused on North Korea and promoting stability in the closed country after the death of Kim Jong Il.

Andy Wong, Associated Press

BEIJING — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda wrapped up a trip to Beijing on Monday where he sought China's cooperation in promoting stability in North Korea after the death of its longtime leader Kim Jong Il.

Noda's first official visit to Beijing since taking power in September would normally have centered on bilateral issues, such as squabbles over islands claimed by both countries, but the death of Kim on Dec. 17 and the announcement of his son Kim Jong Un as the country's "supreme leader" has shifted the focus.

Noda, the first foreign leader to meet with China's leaders since Kim's death, emphasized the need to get stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program back on track.

"Strengthening our countries' relations is necessary in order to solve regional and global issues," Noda said when he met President Hu Jintao on Monday, a day after holding talks with his counterpart, Wen Jiabao.

On Sunday, Noda pointed to the new situation in East Asia, saying "it is very timely to exchange views with the host of the six-party talks and the country with the most influence on North Korea," referring to China.

His visit to China was planned before Kim's death was announced Dec. 19.

When asked whether China could confirm that Kim Jong Un was in complete control of North Korea, Japanese Foreign Ministry press secretary Yutaka Yokoi would say only that Noda and Wen had discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula.

After meeting with Wen, Noda told reporters that the two leaders had agreed to cooperate to try to achieve stability on the peninsula.

"We shared the understanding that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and its peace and stability not only benefits Japan and China but serves the common interest of all neighboring countries," said Noda.

Yokoi said that a Chinese leader has been invited to visit Japan in the first half of next year, but would not say who.

Japan does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, while China is the impoverished country's most important supporter and supplies it with food aid and much of its energy resources.

The six-party talks, which include the two Koreas, the United States and Russia, as well as China and Japan, are aimed at disarming North Korea of its nuclear capability. Pyongyang walked out on the talks in 2009 — and exploded a second nuclear-test device — but now wants to re-engage.

Last year, North Korea was blamed for two military attacks on South Korea that heightened tensions on the peninsula.

Yokoi said China would consider Noda's request to lease pandas for a zoo in Sendai to help cheer up the northern Japanese region as it recovers from the earthquake and tsunami disasters in March.

Noda and Wen noted that 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between their countries and said both nations want to improve relations to mark that occasion.

Officials from both countries also signed memorandums of understanding on youth exchanges and setting up a clean energy and environmental protection investment fund.

Japan and China have a list of sensitive topics they are trying to make progress on, including fights over islands and energy disputes in the East China Sea.

Associated Press writers Gillian Wong in Beijing and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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