Hashimoto meets Chinese defense minister

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto told Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian on Thursday that he hopes high-level exchanges in defense and other fields will deepen bilateral ties between Japan and China.

Hashimoto met Chi following an agreement Wednesday to initiate military exchanges with China, which bore the brunt of Japanese aggression in a series of conflicts that culminated in the Asian phase of World War II.

Hashimoto commented on the importance of deepening the bilateral relationship as Chinese President Jiang Zemin prepares for a visit to Japan in the fall, according to Foreign Ministry officials.

Chi told Hashimoto that deepening relations between the two countries in a range of fields is important for the international community, according to officials who were briefed on the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

Chi also said that bilateral political and economic relations are expanding, and that he hopes to strengthen bilateral defense relations with Japan to match the pace of other links, they said.

In an earlier meeting with Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi, Chi was assured that Japan will continue to promote dialogue with China if necessary to try to dispel Chinese concern over the revamped Japan-U.S. defense guidelines, according to ministry officials.

Later, Chi visited the Air Self-Defense Force’s Hyakuri base in Ogawa, Ibaraki Prefecture on Thursday, becoming the first top Chinese defense official to visit the site.

Chi arrived at the base on a Self-Defense Forces helicopter from central Tokyo and was greeted by a contingent of base personnel. After a briefing, Chi took a look at the cockpit of an F-15 fighter and observed flight operations and missile-loading operations.

Chi is scheduled to visit the Maritime Self-Defense Force base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Friday and board a destroyer there. He is also slated to visit an SDF training school at the foot of Mount Fuji.

Chi arrived Tuesday for a six-day official visit, the first by a Chinese defense minister. The last visit by an incumbent Chinese defense minister was an unofficial trip in 1984 by Zhang Aiping.