Japan, Chinese defense ministers to meet next year

Updated: 2006-11-30 11:29

China and Japan on Wednesday agreed to hold talks between their defense chiefs in Tokyo next year, ending a three-year hiatus, officials said.

Beijing is preparing for National Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan to meet his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kyuma sometime next year in Tokyo, according to Japanese defense official Hidehiro Ikematsu.

The two countries have not held ministerial-level defense talks since 2003 amid strained diplomatic relations under former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose repeated visits to a war shrine that honors Japan's war dead angered China.

But Koizumi's successor, Shinzo Abe, has made strengthening Tokyo's ties with its Asian neighbors a priority. During a fence-mending trip to Beijing last month, Abe agreed with Chinese President Hu Jintao to boost mutual trust in the area of security.

Earlier Wednesday, Abe told reporters that Tokyo welcomed discussions with its neighbor.

"We need to build relations of mutual trust in a variety of areas to achieve new heights in strategically reciprocal relations. I think having discussions related to security matters in particular is extremely significant," Abe said.

Wednesday's talks took place between Japanese Defense Agency Vice Minister Takemasa Moriya and a visiting senior officer of the People's Liberation Army, according to Ikematsu.

The officials also discussed starting reciprocal port calls by vessels of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Chinese Navy, Ikematsu said.

Though Japan and China are linked by billions of dollars (euros) in trade, repairing relations will be an uphill task amid a spate of disputes over territory, undersea gas and oil deposits, and Koizumi's a war shrine criticized for its strong links to past Japanese militarism.

Beijing, which suffered under Japanese military aggression in the last century, was especially irked by Koizumi's visits and refused to meet the leader during his last years in office.

Meanwhile, Japan's Defense Agency lists China's military expansion as a top security concern in the region. Chinese defense spending has jumped by double-digit percentages since the early 1990s, and Foreign Minister Taro Aso has repeatedly called China a threat _ drawing angry protests from Beijing.

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