• Kyodo

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Japan has begun destroying chemical weapons abandoned in China by the Imperial Japanese Army at the end of World War II, Hideo Hiraoka, senior vice minister of the Cabinet Office, announced Wednesday in Nanjing.

Hiraoka, a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker, said during a ceremony that the Japanese government will continue taking measures to speed up the destruction of abandoned munitions, the state-controlled Xinhua news agency reported.

“Today’s move marks a new phase in the disposal of abandoned chemical weapons in China, in which the work has shifted from excavation and recovery to destruction,” he said. “This is the result of years of efforts made by Japanese and Chinese authorities, and will have far-reaching effects on the bilateral relationship.”

The project began in accordance with a bilateral agreement in July 1999 that Japan would provide money, technology and facilities to dispose of the weapons.

Under the international Chemical Weapons Convention, Japan is required to excavate and destroy all chemical weapons left in China by 2012, a deadline extended from 2007.

At Wednesday’s ceremony, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun said the abandoned chemical weapons were one of the “serious crimes” committed during Japan’s invasion and their destruction will remove a threat to the environment, lives and property, and promote the development of bilateral ties.

“(China) hopes Japan will take this start of the destruction phase as an opportunity to continue increasing manpower and resources to further accelerate the progress of destruction,” Zhang was quoted as saying on the People’s Daily website.

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry website, China and Japan have conducted more than 120 bilateral investigations and excavation operations, and more than 40,000 abandoned chemical weapons have been recovered so far.

The exact number of chemical munitions buried underground or abandoned in rivers and lakes has been disputed by both sides, with estimates ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions.

Chinese victims of poisoning from abandoned chemical weapons have filed damage suits against the Japanese government in recent years.

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