• Kyodo

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Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan voiced concern Wednesday over Japan’s plans to launch a missile defense system in 2007, according to Japanese officials.

During a meeting with visiting Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba, Cao said this policy could undermine the region’s military balance and trigger a new arms race, according to defense agency officials.

The Defense Agency has asked the Finance Ministry for 142.3 billion yen in the fiscal 2004 budget to prepare for the system’s launch.

The money will be used to upgrade a destroyer equipped with the Aegis air-defense system and to introduce a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 antimissile group. Their deployments are planned for 2007.

Ishiba responded by saying the planned missile defense system is a “pure defense system not designed to threaten other countries.” He also asked Beijing for its understanding, according to the officials.

Cao urged Tokyo to dispose of World War II-era mustard gas abandoned in China by the Imperial Japanese Army that leaked Aug. 4 and killed a man last month, the officials said.

He called on Tokyo to deal with the situation in a convincing way as it affects the lives of Chinese people, the officials said.

The two countries began two days of working-level talks Wednesday afternoon in Beijing over the incident in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang Province, which also injured more than 40 people.

Japanese government sources said Tuesday that Japan will offer 100 million yen to the victims of the incident.

Japan has already sent a medical team to help treat the victims and chemical weapons experts to seal the leaking drums.

Japanese troops left about 700,000 chemical weapons in China after the end of World War II in 1945. Japan has promised to dispose of them under a 1997 international convention.

Regarding North Korea, Ishiba and Cao agreed that Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs are a “source of serious concern for regional security.”

Six-way talks were held last week in Beijing, and the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia agreed to continue discussing the issue.

Ishiba reiterated Tokyo’s position that it will not establish diplomatic ties with Pyongyang unless the issue of North Korea abducting Japanese people in the 1970s and 1980s is resolved.

During Wednesday’s talks the two defense chiefs also agreed to accelerate defense-related bilateral exchanges, with an early mutual visit between the Chinese navy and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Ishiba’s visit to China was the first by a Defense Agency director general since 1998 as Beijing put on hold a scheduled visit last year by then defense chief Gen Nakatani after lodging protests over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Tokyo’s war-related Yasukuni Shrine.

Koizumi has visited the Shinto shrine once a year since becoming prime minister in April 2001. Yasukuni is regarded as a symbol of Japanese militarism in many Asian countries because it enshrines Class-A war criminals as well as Japan’s other war dead.

Japan plays it cool

The government on Wednesday downplayed concerns expressed by China earlier in the day over Japan’s plan to establish a missile defense system in 2007.

“While I have not seen the minutes of the meeting, generally speaking, we usually say such things,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters.

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