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DATE=8/24/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=CHINA - SOUTH KOREA (L ONLY) NUMBER=2-253064 BYLINE=ROGER WILKISON DATELINE=BEIJING CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: China's defense minister has accepted an invitation to visit South Korea, in what diplomats say is a sign of the increasing closeness between the two former Korean War adversaries. VOA correspondent Roger Wilkison reports on the first-ever talks between the two countries' defense chiefs. TEXT: Chinese defense minister Chi Haotian fought against South Korean and United States forces during the Korean War nearly 50 years ago. Now, he has accepted an invitation to visit South Korea for the first time. The invitation was extended by visiting South Korean defense minister Cho Sung-tae, who is making the first official trip to China by a South Korean defense chief. Mr. Cho's visit has been a low-key one. There has been only minimum coverage of his landmark trip in the state-controlled Chinese news media. Diplomats say that is because China does not want to offend its longtime ally, North Korea. A South Korean diplomat says Mr. Cho conveyed to the Chinese Seoul's concerns about what he described as North Korea's erratic behavior. The diplomat said a key concern -- but not the only one -- is the possibility Pyongyang will test-fire a new ballistic missile that could upset the security situation in Northeast Asia. South Korea's Yonhap news agency and the KBS television network report General Chi promised to try to dissuade North Korea from carrying out the missile test. The Chinese Defense Ministry would not comment on the meeting. Yonhap also reports Mr. Cho asked Chinese premier Zhu Rongji to reassure North Korea that Seoul has no intention of making a hard push for reunification of the divided peninsula. It says Mr. Cho specifically told Mr. Zhu that South Korea does not want to absorb North Korea. North Korea's firing of a ballistic missile nearly a year ago led Japan to enhance its military ties with the United States. Tokyo and Washington promised to research a regional anti-missile shield. Beijing fears such a shield could stymie its own military power. It is especially worried that the anti-missile defense might be extended to Taiwan, which it considers part of China. China-North Korea relations were strained when Beijing established ties with Seoul in 1992. But Beijing has recently strengthened ties with its reclusive neighbor while maintaining strong links with South Korea. One Asian diplomat says China wants to have good relations with both Koreas and is prepared to play one off against the other to maintain the status quo on the peninsula. (Signed) NEB/RW/FC/KL 24-Aug-1999 07:49 AM EDT (24-Aug-1999 1149 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .