Japanese to attend China drill for first time

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BEIJING, Sep 25 (Reuters) Japanese observers will attend a military drill in northeastern China today for the first time, Chinese media reported, in the latest sign of warming ties between the neighbours and former foes.

A Japanese staff officer and a defence attache to China would attend the ''Warrior 2007'' exercise, in what Chinese Defence Ministry official Qian Lihua called a ''tangible measure'' of strengthening military cooperation.

''There will be more partnership in defence and security between Japan and China,'' the China Daily newspaper quoted Qian as saying.

The news comes on the day that the Japanese parliament is due to install Yasuo Fukuda, an advocate of closer ties with Japan's Asian neighbours, as prime minister.

Japan invaded and occupied parts of China from 1931 to 1945, and relations are still overshadowed by animosities stemming from the Imperial Army's wartime atrocities.

Any warming of Sino-Japanese military ties would be sure to catch the attention of self-ruled Taiwan, a former Japanese colony which China's Communist authorities claim as a breakaway province.

Japan's participation in a US-led ballistic missile shield in the region has sparked criticism in China, while Beijing's annual rises in military spending have raised concern in Tokyo.

But Chinese Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan went to Japan in August in the first such visit in nearly a decade, when he invited the observers.

''China's military transparency has been increasing, though we still hope it will become more transparent,'' the newspaper quoted Japanese staff officer Okimura Yoshihiko as saying.

The exercise, in the Shenyang Military Area, involves more than 10,000 troops from a motorised rifle division and is aimed at improving the People's Liberation Army's battle readiness.

Military officers from 35 countries have been invited to the drill, the newspaper said.

REUTERS ARB AS0944

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