TOKYO -- President Hu Jintao, on the first visit to Japan by a Chinese leader in 10 years, called Tuesday for the Asian giants to improve their often strained relations and -- as a show of goodwill -- reportedly offered to lend Tokyo a pair of pandas.
But protests continued to dog China on the international stage ahead of this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing, with hundreds of protesters marching to demand a "free Tibet." Thousands of riot police mobilized to ensure Hu's safety.
Hu and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, hoping to underscore the positive during the Chinese leader's five-day stay, hope pingpong and pandas will take the edge off more contentious problems like border disputes, historical animosity and concerns over China's rule in Tibet.
"We stand at a new starting point," Hu said after his arrival. "We must develop our strategic partnership."
Hu, the first Chinese president to come to Tokyo since Jiang Zemin in 1998, was to be given the full state guest treatment.
After a private dinner Tuesday night with Fukuda, he was to meet Emperor Akihito today and then launch into talks with Fukuda. Later in the day, Hu was to meet with business executives and the heads of Japan's main political parties.
Officials said Hu and Fukuda were expected to discuss climate change, contested gas fields in the East China Sea, Chinese food safety rules and perhaps Tibet. But, to set a friendly tone, the two leaders were also expected to play pingpong.
The trip is intended to build on a recent warming in relations after years of friction over disputed borders, Japan's treatment of its wartime invasion of China, anti-Japanese protests in China and general Japanese unease over Beijing's rapidly growing diplomatic, military and economic power.
Hu hopes the visit will project China as a good neighbor after weeks of protests over Tibet and human rights issues that have accompanied the worldwide Olympic torch relay preceding the Beijing games in August.
Ahead of Hu's arrival, about 500 people protested in Tokyo, many carrying banners calling for a "Free Tibet." There were no reports of arrests, although some protesters scuffled with police outside the French restaurant where Hu and Fukuda dined.
Japanese reports said up to 7,000 police had been assigned to protecting Hu during his visit.
Japan's Foreign Ministry said China will agree in an expected joint statement on global climate change to consider ways to help halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Both countries will also pledge to actively participate in U.N.-led talks on producing a new international agreement on climate change.
One of the top items on the agenda was pandas, however.
Ling Ling, a 22-year-old giant panda at Tokyo's largest zoo and a symbol of friendship with China, died last week of heart failure. "It would be nice if we have a panda there again," Fukuda told reporters last week.
Tokyo is hoping to get one on loan from China, and Japan's Kyodo News agency said that during the leaders' dinner Tuesday night, Hu expressed his willingness to send a couple of pandas to Japan.
Foreign Ministry officials could not confirm the report.
"There are a wide range of issues to talk about -- not only Japan-China relations but also peace and stability and economy in the region -- and I hope we can exchange views from a broad perspective," Fukuda told Japanese reporters.
Ties began unraveling in 1998 when Jiang traveled to Tokyo expecting but not receiving an apology over Japan's often brutal 1931-45 occupation of much of China.
Relations chilled as a more assertive Japanese government charted a more aggressive defense and foreign policy course, even as other countries in the region began to accommodate China's rising clout.
But both countries have good reason to keep cordial relations.
Economic ties between the two have thrived, with Japanese businesses finding China a huge new market. Trade reached $237 billion last year, according to Chinese statistics.