JAKARTA, Indonesia – Chinese President Hu Jintao (search) urged Japan on Saturday to reflect on its World War II aggression and back up its recent apologies with action, pressing Beijing's relentless campaign for redress from Tokyo for its handling of wartime atrocities.
Hu's comments came in a rare public statement after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junchiro Koizumi (search) on the sidelines of the Asian-African summit in Jakarta in a bid to ease the worst dispute in decades between the two Asian powers.
Koizumi downplayed the tensions following the meeting, calling for China not to be affected by "temporary confrontations and differences of opinion."
It was the first top-level discussion since huge anti-Japanese protests erupted earlier this month in major Chinese cities over Tokyo's approval of school textbooks that China claims play down such wartime atrocities as mass sex slavery and germ warfare.
"The strong reaction of the Chinese people and the concerns of people from other Asian countries are something that the Japanese side should seriously reflect on," Hu said after meeting privately with Koizumi for 55 minutes.
"At the moment Sino-Japanese relations face a difficult situation. Such a difficult situation is not one we want to see."
If the row cannot be resolved, "it would be detrimental to China and Japan and would affect stability and development in Asia," he warned.
Koizumi agreed that the issue could affect regional ties but struck a more conciliatory note. The two powers are linked by billions of dollars in trade and investment.
"Japan and China have never needed each other as much as they do today," Koizumi said. "We want to promote this relation ... instead of agitating hostile feelings."
The Chinese president said relations between the two nations could improve if Tokyo refused to support any moves toward independence by Taiwan (search). Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing still claims the island as its territory.
"The question of Taiwan should be correctly handled. It is hoped that the Japanese side will demonstrate through concrete action its adherence to the one-China policy and opposition to Taiwan independence," Hu said.
The meeting came a day after Koizumi offered the most public apology in a decade over Japan's wartime aggression in Asia. Koizumi's expression of "deep remorse" broke no new ground, but the rare appeal was a clear attempt to reverse the worst erosion of ties between Tokyo and Beijing since diplomatic relations were established in 1972.
But Hu said rhetoric was not enough.
"Remorse expressed for (Japan's invasion of China and World War II) should be translated into action and no move should be made to offend the people of China and the people from other Asian countries," he said.
Hu, however, said he hoped talks would help resolve differences between the two Asian heavyweights.
"We hope that the two sides will work together to ensure the healthy stable development of Sino-Japanese relations," Hu said.
China, South Korea and other Asian nations have long accused Japan of not apologizing adequately for invading and occupying its neighbors, and Chinese animosities are aggravated by their rivalry with the Japanese to be the region's dominant power.
At least 12 million Chinese citizens died in Japan's assault on their nation in the 1930s and 1940s. Japan, an ally of Nazi Germany, conquered much of East Asia before its forces surrendered in August 1945.
The dispute has threatened Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. China has one of the five permanent seats, which carry veto power over U.N. actions.
During a visit to India earlier this month, China's premier told Japan to face up to its World War II aggression before aspiring to a bigger global role. It was the strongest hint yet that China might exercise its veto power to block Japan's bid.
At the start of the summit Friday, Koizumi expressed "deep remorse" for his country's misdeeds. It marked the first statement of remorse from a Japanese leader since 1995.
"Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility," he said.
However, Koizumi's remarks came just hours after a Cabinet minister and more than 80 Japanese lawmakers visited a Tokyo shrine to Japan's war dead.
In Tokyo, about 150 demonstrators, many of them Japanese nationalists, on Saturday marched peacefully to protest anti-Japanese violence in China.
Demonstrators brandished Japanese flags featuring the rising sun and chanted, "Chinese government: Crack down on anti-Japan violent protests!" and "Chinese government: Formally apologize to Japan!
In Beijing, there was no sign of new anti-Japanese protests Saturday, a day after the government called on the public to end unrest that might damage economic ties. Three busloads of paramilitary troops guarded the Japanese Embassy.