TOKYO — A Chinese warship dropped anchor off Tokyo on Wednesday for the communist nation’s first military visit to Japan since World War II, in a highly symbolic display of improving ties between the two Asian giants.
The port call by the guided missile destroyer Shenzhen was part of a mutual exchange that will bring a Japanese warship on a visit to China at a later date. It was the first visit ever to Japan by Communist China’s People’s Liberation Army.
The Chinese ship arrived under heavy security with a Japanese destroyer as its escort and a half dozen helicopters buzzing the sky.
On board, a navy band played “Anchors Away,” while a cheering section of Chinese well-wishers brought by bus by the embassy waved Chinese flags and performed a lion dance.
During its four-day stay, the Shenzhen will be opened to the Japanese public for tours. It will also dock at the Japanese naval headquarters in Yokosuka, just south of the capital, before returning to its home base in the southern Chinese port of Zhanjiang.
Diplomatic relations between Japan and China, two nations which are increasingly vying for economic and political clout in the region, have visibly improved over the past year.
Ties hit a low two years ago over territorial disputes and Japanese leaders’ visits to a Tokyo war shrine, which many Chinese saw as inflammatory. But both sides have toned down their rhetoric and agreed to expand political and military exchanges.
China said before the Shenzhen departed for the trip that it hoped the call would “have a positive effect on the development of the relationship between the two countries and their defense departments.”
Still, distrust between Beijing and Tokyo runs deep, particularly in military issues.
Japan’s brutal invasion and occupation of much of China in the 1930s and 1940s have left a legacy of bitterness, one that Beijing has occasionally stoked to cater to nationalist sentiments.
Japanese officials, meanwhile, have repeatedly expressed concerns about China’s surging military spending in recent years, calling for more transparency.
Japan and its top ally, the United States, are especially concerned with China’s growing naval capabilities and its development of submarines that can operate farther away from China’s shores for longer periods.
Washington, which has some 50,000 troops based in Japan, sees China’s military growth as a potentially destabilizing factor in Asia.
Beijing last week deeply embarrassed the U.S. by refusing to allow the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier and its battle group entry into the port of Hong Kong.
The Kitty Hawk is home-ported in Japan.
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