China defense minister visits Israel

Special to World
Thursday, October 21, 1999

JERUSALEM [MENL] -- Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian arrived in Israel on Tuesday in the first formal visit by a defense chief to the Jewish state.

Diplomats said the arrival of the Chinese general marks a higher profile in the defense relations between the two countries. Chi, who arrived from Syria, held talks with Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

On Wednesday, Chi was scheduled to tour Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd., Lod. Defense Ministry officials allowed reporters to cover the visit. But IAI executives, who plan to use the tour to discuss business, have barred outsiders.

The minister's visit comes more than a year after Israel's then-defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai led a delegation of defense industry leaders to Beijing in September.

Diplomatic sources said the level of Israeli defense sales to Beijing has slacked off over the last year. Defense executives deny this.

The largest deal between the two countries is an Israeli-Russian effort to supply early-warning aircraft to Beijing. One jet is being completed and Beijing is considering ordering another three planes in a project that could total $1 billion.

China and Israel began secret arms cooperation in 1980. In 1992, the two countries established formal ties.

U.S. defense executives have expressed opposition to Israeli-Chinese ties and have charged that Jerusalem is selling U.S. technology. In February, Israel denied U.S. newspaper reports that it had relayed technology to Beijing from the joint Theater High Energy Laser program.

In Damascus, Chi spent three days, where he discussed the prospect of increased military cooperation with Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass.

Thursday, October 21, 1999

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