TOKYO (Reuters) - A rare visit to Japan by a Chinese defense minister has done little to erase mutual suspicion over the Asian rivals’ military ambitions, despite his assurances that Beijing poses no threat, Japanese media said on Friday.
Cao Gangchuan’s five-day visit is the first by a Chinese defense minister to Japan in almost a decade after top-level military exchanges were halted due to tensions over a range of issues, mainly relating to Japan’s past military aggression.
With ties having warmed since Shinzo Abe took over as Japan’s prime minister last September, Cao and his Japanese counterpart, Masahiko Komura, agreed on Thursday on a first-ever visit by a Chinese warship to Japan and to try to set up a crisis hotline.
But Japanese suspicions over the lack of transparency in China’s rising military budget showed no sign of letting up.
“It is only natural for other countries, including Japan, to become increasingly concerned about China’s recent military trend,” the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said in an editorial, adding that Cao had given no concrete examples of how Beijing planned to improve transparency about its military force.
China said in March it would boost defense spending by 17.8 percent to about $45 billion this year, but a U.S. Pentagon report in May said Beijing’s total military-related spending could be more than double.
Without a breakdown of China’s defense spending in line with international standards, doubts would not subside, the conservative Sankei Shimbun said.
“Japan should work to build trust with China through dialogue, but its core policy is its alliance with the United States,” the paper said in its editorial.
The liberal Asahi newspaper, however, also warned against fanning China’s mistrust with talk of closer ties among four regional democracies — Japan, the United States, India and Australia — a move Beijing sees as containment.
Sino-Japanese ties, long plagued by memories of Japan’s invasion of parts of China in the early 20th century, soured to their worst state in decades under Abe’s predecessor.
Junichiro Koizumi angered Beijing with visits to a shrine where wartime leaders are honored along with war dead during his five years in office.
Abe moved quickly to repair ties, but after a disastrous upper house election defeat last month, he has again sought to woo conservatives suspicious of China.
“There have been moves by Japan appearing to contain China, such as Prime Minister Abe’s diplomatic policy based on common values and upcoming military exercises with the United States, India and Australia,” said an Asahi editorial.
“Japan must not forget that the main point of diplomacy should be to nurture a trusting relationship with China.”
Cao visits troops on Friday and will pay a visit to the historic capital of Kyoto on Saturday, before leaving on Sunday.