Friday, November 27, 2009

China, Japan plan first joint military exercise

It will take much more to put aside their mutual suspicion. Nevertheless, it is a welcoming step.

Fri Nov 27, 2009 8:54am EST

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and China agreed on Friday to conduct their first joint military training exercise, in the latest sign of warming ties between the Asian neighbors, long marked by mutual suspicion and spats over a range of issues.

But Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa maintained the pressure on China's visiting defense minister for more openness about ballooning military spending, a particular concern for Tokyo.

Kitazawa and his Chinese opposite number, Liang Guanglie, agreed that their countries' armed forces would hold a joint search and rescue exercise at sea -- their first joint exercise. The two sides would also discuss further joint training in humanitarian assistance and disaster rescue.

"I strongly believe that the agreement between China and Japan to conduct a joint rescue drill at sea clearly indicates tremendous progress in mutual understanding and trust between the two countries," Kitazawa told a joint news conference.

The uniformed Liang told reporters: "We have openly exchanged our ideas without any hesitation and agreed upon various goals by sharing issues and concerns."

In a joint press statement, they added that Kitazawa would visit China next year as part of a growing range of military exchanges, including visits by naval vessels.

But Kitazawa later told reporters he had pressed Liang to follow Japan's example of openness, including by issuing a defense white paper giving details of its military spending and equipment.

Hatoyama also called for more openness in his meeting with Liang, the foreign ministry said.

China's official military budget will grow to 480.7 billion yuan ($70.41 billion) in 2009, up 14.9 percent year on year, in line with nearly two decades of double-digit budget rises.

Kitazawa told Liang not enough information had been made public about the make-up and deployment of the armed forces as well as their equipment, saying that this could lead to misunderstandings, a defense ministry official said.

Liang replied that China was already making efforts to become more open, the official said. The official also quoted Liang as saying that China's defense budget was low when calculated per head of population.

(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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