China and Japan agreed to resume military exchanges in talks Wednesday, but China's defense minister attacked Tokyo's plans for a missile defense system as a part of it military buildup in response to the growing North Korean threat.
The Japan Defense Agency plans to begin deploying a ballistic missile defense system in 2006 and is seeking $1.15 billion in its fiscal 2004 budget request to the Diet. The system, developed in collaboration with the United States, is designed mainly to counter a North Korean missile attack.
Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan and Japan Defense Agency Director-General Shigeru Ishiba met in Beijing on Sept. 3 and agreed to resume bilateral military exchanges that had been terminated since April 2002.
China opposes Japan's missile defense deployment. While Ishiba emphasized the missile defense would not lead to military expansion, Cao expressed deep concerns. "Global strategic balance of power can be undermined," with the introduction of Japan's missile defense," he said. "It can lead to a new arms race in the opinion of some."
Japan considers North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programs as major threats to its national security.
The agreement was concluded after China played host to the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program. The talks ended without significant progress and no follow-up talks are currently scheduled. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was that country's chief delegate to the 6-party talks, criticized the United States as the "main problem" to reaching a diplomatic solution to the North Korean crisis.
The two countries agreed mutual military exchanges between China and Japan in 2000. Then-JDA Director-General Gen. Nakatani was scheduled to visit China in April 2002 and a Chinese navy vessel was to visit Japan a month later. However, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo that month, which triggered protests from China and Korea. The shrine honors Japan's war dead, and Korea and China feared the visit signified a justification of Japan's atrocities committed during World War II. As the result, the planned military exchanges were put on hold.
Cao and Ishiba agreed that diplomatic efforts should be continued to resolve the North Korean problem, and said that North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons should not be tolerated.
Two leaders agreed to facilitate mutual port calls by their respective military vessels, with Chinese Navy vessels visiting Japan first.
"Development, deployment and proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction are problems not only to Japan but also to the entire North East Asian region," Ishiba said during his meeting with Cao. "Japanese public opinion is still very negative toward the issue of abduction of Japanese citizens. Without the solution of the abduction issue, normalization of Japan-North Korea relationship is impossible."
Cao said that China's "position to oppose [North Korea's] possession of nuclear weapons remains unchanged, in light of maintaining peace and stability of Korean Peninsula. The problem cannot be solved in one or two meetings, and it takes time."
Cao also noted that historical problems are unavoidable in handling China-Japan relations. In addition to complaining about the visits to Yasukuni Shrine, he referenced problems with Japanese history textbooks, the issue of forced Chinese laborers and wartime "comfort women," as well as Japan's recent legislative efforts for contingency defense bills.