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Friday, Dec. 23, 2005

China posing a threat: Aso

Buildup of military said worrisome By


Staff writer

China's military buildup poses a threat to Japan's security, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Thursday -- a remark that is expected to further worsen already sour bilateral relations.

China "possesses nuclear arms and its military budget has seen double-digit growth for the past 17 years and its content is not transparent," Aso told a news conference. "It is starting to become a considerable threat."

Aso said that if China's military spending were more transparent, Beijing would not need to deny that its buildup poses a threat.

Aso's latest comment came on the heels of similar remarks by Democratic Party of Japan leader Seiji Maehara that apparently angered Beijing.

Government officials have carefully avoided using the word "threat" when describing China's buildup, saying Tokyo will "pay attention" to China's military spending. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has said Japan does not consider China a threat even though the country has nuclear weapons.

But remarks from officials on Beijing's military budget have irritated their Chinese counterparts.

During a trip to the United States earlier this month, the DPJ leader said China's military buildup poses a "realistic threat" to Japan.

Apparently angered by the remark, China canceled Maehara's meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao when he later visited Beijing.

Maehara again said China poses a threat at the DPJ annual convention late last week, citing its rapidly expanding military outlays, as well as modernization of its missile capacity, upgrades of its arms and its energy resource development in the East China Sea.

Chinese officials claim Japan outspends China on defense. Tokyo's defense budget for fiscal 2004 was about $41.5 billion, while China's official defense budget was $25.6 billion, Beijing claims.

Aso's remark comes at a time when China had begun to show signs of wanting to mend fences. On Wednesday, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, China's former foreign minister, told LDP Deputy Secretary General Ichiro Aisawa the two nations should hold a foreign ministers' meeting as soon as possible.

China has refused to hold high-level meetings with Japan since Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine in October. The shrine honors Japan's war dead as well as a number of Class-A war criminals.

Aso 'irresponsible'

BEIJING (Kyodo) A Beijing spokesman Thursday called remarks by Foreign Minister Taro Aso on China posing a threat "highly irresponsible" and questioned his intentions.

Now is the wrong time for a meeting between Aso and his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang also a press briefing.

"For the Japanese foreign minister to make this kind of statement is extremely irresponsible," he said. "We can't help but ask, what does the Japanese foreign minister want to do this time by stirring up groundless claims of a China threat?"

At a news conference in Tokyo, Aso said China, a "neighbor with 1 billion people equipped with nuclear bombs," is beginning to pose a "considerable threat."

He noted that China "has expanded its military outlays by double digits for 17 years in a row" and said he did not know what China planned to do with its military and that a "lack of transparency" fans distrust.

Qin said China's ascent contributes to world and regional peace and stability. It also gives the region, including Japan, "huge development opportunities," Qin said.

Because of the "severe" conditions between China and Japan, China sees no merit in a meeting now between the two countries' foreign ministers, Qin added.

"We assert that dialogue, exchanges, communication and cooperation between Japan and China should be increased," he said. "But for that kind of exchange to take place requires a suitable atmosphere and conditions."

He blamed the current conditions on Japan.

Aso, appointed foreign minister in October, has previously criticized China's military spending and defended Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine.



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