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Japan arranging for defense chief Taro Kono to visit China in mid-December

Kyodo, JIJI

The government is making arrangements for a mid-December visit to China by Defense Minister Taro Kono to meet with his Chinese counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe, Japanese government sources said Thursday.

If realized, it will be the first visit for a Japanese defense chief to China since March 2009, reflecting markedly improved bilateral relations.

The Japanese government expects Kono’s visit to Beijing will lay the groundwork for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to China, which is scheduled to take place before the end of the year. It is planned that Chinese President Xi Jinping will make a state visit to Japan next spring.

Kono plans to express Japan’s concerns over Chinese military activities in the East and South China seas, the sources said.

He is also expected to urge China to seek a peaceful solution to the unrest in Hong Kong.

Tokyo hopes to make progress on the delayed launch of a bilateral defense hotline with Beijing at the defense chiefs’ meeting, the sources said.

Japan and China are seeking to soon open the hotline under the bilateral Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism launched in June last year. The plan is aimed at averting accidental clashes at sea and in the air.

In June, then-Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya expressed willingness to make a trip to China by the end of the year during his meeting with Wei on the sidelines of the Asia Security Summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore.