HANOVER, Germany —
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday arrived in Hanover, Germany, at the start of a four-day trip to Europe, hoping to discuss security issues and make progress on trade as regional tensions soar over accelerating North Korean threats.
Abe’s trip, which will take him to Germany, France, Belgium and Italy, comes a few days after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Tokyo for talks on North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
The top U.S. diplomat also traveled to Seoul and Beijing after Tokyo.
Japan has been on edge over North Korean launches since a mid-range ballistic missile flew without warning over the northern part of the country and into the western Pacific in 1998.
The pace of the North’s missile development has intensified and its projectiles have since last year been landing ever closer to Japan’s coast, with three of the four missiles launched earlier this month falling in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) off Akita prefecture.
“I want to exchange opinions openly with G7 leaders,” Abe told reporters. We hope to closely cooperate with the EU on issues the international community is facing such as the problems on North Korea and free trade.”
Abe’s itinerary began with a visit Sunday to technology show CeBIT in Hanover followed by a summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Afterwards, the two leaders issued a staunch joint defense of free trade, as the United States pushes toward greater protectionism.
“We want free and open markets,” Merkel said. “In these times of inter-connectedness, we want to link together our societies and work together in an equitable way. That’s what free trade is about.”
She made no direct reference to U.S. President Donald Trump, elected on a protectionist “America First” platform promising to slash trade deficits, but noted that the European Union and Japan are negotiating a free trade deal that may be reached this year.
“At a time when we are arguing a lot over free trade, open borders and democratic values, it’s a good sign that Japan and Germany are not arguing” over trade, she said.
Abe said that Japan “wants to be the champion upholding open systems alongside Germany”.
He said it was through connectedness that economies would grow, and called for a swift conclusion to the EU-Japan trade deal.
But he added: “We must not create conditions by which wealth becomes concentrated among only some people.”
Abe next will go to Paris for a meeting with French President Francois Hollande.
Abe will hold talks with European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and freshly re-elected European Union President Donald Tusk in Brussels as the EU aims to close a free trade deal with Tokyo this year.
Abe will return to Tokyo on Wednesday after meeting with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, chair of this year’s Group of Seven industrialised countries.
© 2017 AFP