National / Politics

Kono to leave for China on Wednesday for first visit by Japan defense chief in 10 years

Kyodo

Defense Minister Taro Kono said he will visit Beijing from Wednesday to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Wei Fenghe, becoming the first Japanese defense chief to travel to China in 10 years amid improved bilateral ties.

“Japan and China have a lot of concerns regarding national security and defense,” Kono said at a news conference Tuesday in Tokyo ahead of his two-day trip, in an apparent reference to China’s growing military assertiveness in the East and South China seas.

“We will discuss them openly,” he added.

At the meeting, Tokyo hopes to make progress on the launch of a bilateral defense hotline with Beijing, which was supposed to be set up when the two countries established the Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism in June last year, according to Defense Ministry officials.

The mechanism is aimed at averting accidental clashes between the Self-Defense Forces and the Chinese military, at sea and in the air.

The two countries have been engaged in a dispute over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which Beijing claims and calls Diaoyu. Chinese vessels have entered Japanese territorial waters near the islets on numerous occasions.

The government expects Kono’s visit to lay the groundwork for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s planned trip to China, scheduled for three days from Monday, for a trilateral summit with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to make a state visit to Japan next spring.

Yasukazu Hamada was the last Japanese defense minister to visit China, in 2009.