Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan (L) shakes hands with a Japanese officer after his arrival in Tokyo August 29, 2007. [Xinhua]
Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan kicked off his five-day official goodwill visit to Japan Wednesday, the first visit by a Chinese defense minister to the country in more than nine years, a move seen by many commentators as a sign of thawing relations.
The Defense Ministry earlier said the visit aims to fulfill the consensus reached between the leaders, improve understanding, develop friendship, as well as reinforce communication and trust in the defense and security fields.
Cao will inspect and address Japan's Self-Defense Forces, as well as meet with newly appointed Japanese Defense Minister Masahiko Komura, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry.
The two ministers are expected to meet today to discuss reciprocal visits of the Chinese navy and Japanese maritime self-defense forces, the setting up of a hotline between the two countries' defense authorities, and China's military spending, Japanese media reported.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed with Chinese leaders to boost bilateral defense exchanges when he visited China last year.
After the five-day trip to Japan, Cao will visit the Philippines at the invitation of Philippine Secretary of Defense Gilbert Teodoro.
Sino-Japanese ties have improved since Japanese and Chinese prime ministers paid reciprocal visits to each other's country in October 2006 and April 2007, but thorny issues still remain.
On August 22, Abe, on a visit to India, called for the establishment of a "Broader Asia", which brings together powers such as Japan, India, the United States and Australia. He did not mention China in the partnership, which some commentators see as a containment policy.
"The major task of the 'Sino-Japanese strategic and mutually-beneficial relationship' is to build strategic mutual trust. If we do not trust each other, the relationship will never be established," Feng Zhaokui, a Japan specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.
"The key point (of our mutual trust) is the trust in the security field. There is no doubt that the visit by Minister Cao will take the first step in that direction."