PULLING no punches, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told Japan's parliament yesterday that the country's past military aggression remained a deeply sensitive issue that could easily derail improving relations between the two.
"Japan's invasions caused tremendous damage to the Chinese," Mr Wen told a silent parliament in a speech broadcast live throughout the country. He urged Japan never to forget its war-time atrocities.
"No words can describe the deep scars left in the hearts of the Chinese people," he said.
Mr Wen said relations between China and Japan were at a crossroads and the past had to be confronted if the two were to build "good, forward-looking relations towards a beautiful future". He blamed the war on Japanese militarists, not the Japanese people, for whom the war, too, was a calamity.
"To reflect on history is not to dwell on hard feelings but to remember and learn from the past in order to open a better future," Mr Wen said. "There was a short period of Japanese militarism that hurt China deeply. That period brought tragedy to Japan as well.
"If Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe's visit to China last October can be described as an ice-breaker, then I hope my visit to Japan will be an ice-thawer. I came to Japan for friendship and co-operation.
"China's opening up and overnight modernisation drive benefits from the support and help of the Japanese Government and people. The Chinese people will never forget that."
The speech was the centrepiece of Mr Wen's three-day visit to improve business and other ties. More than 600 company executives from both nations met as part of his visit. China, including Hong Kong, is Japan's biggest trading partner, ahead of the US. Bilateral trade totalled $US249 billion ($A302 billion) last year, up from $US64 billion in 1997.
China is keen to increase Japanese technology transfers and investment in its booming economy and Japanese business is keen for access to Chinese consumers and cheaper labour. But frosty political ties have been an impediment.
Mr Wen's visit is to build on the fragile rapprochement since Mr Abe's "ice-breaking" visit to Beijing last October, just a few weeks after Mr Abe took office.
On Wednesday, the two leaders signed agreements to co-operate on developing energy resources, including building nuclear power plants in China and working on a post-Kyoto environmental accord.
Mr Wen, though, refused to drop China's opposition to Japan's long-standing campaign to win a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, although Beijing was prepared to discuss the issue and "understood" Japan's hope to play a bigger role in international society.