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United Nations

Japan PM Shinzo Abe talks up trade at UN ahead of meeting with Donald Trump

While US president has directed his fury on China, he has frequently complained about a deficit with Japan

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 10:23am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 10:55am

Japan will push for free trade as a country that has enjoyed its benefits in the post-war years, and plans to take a leading role in spreading fair economic rules in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.

In his address at the United Nations Tuesday, Abe also expressed his determination to meet face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to end years of bilateral distrust and make a “new start”.

In a change from his address to the assembly a year ago, he did not mention the need to apply pressure on Pyongyang.

“In the three years to come, I will do my very best to strengthen the free trade system,” Abe told the General Assembly.

“Japan has now taken on the mission of imparting to the world the benefits of trade.”

Plot thickens for Abe’s third term in Japan

Abe, who has addressed the assembly every year since 2013, started his speech this year with the topic of trade, signalling its high priority in times of rising global trade friction.

A day ahead of his summit with US President Donald Trump, Abe sent a clear message that Japan wants a “win-win” relationship with the United States, noting that the two countries have a long-standing leadership role in the global free trade system.

Trump has taken issue with massive US trade deficits with countries such as Japan and hopes to fix what he sees as unbalanced trade by making bilateral deals.

In spite of Washington’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade accord, Tokyo has continued to tout the benefits of multilateral free trade frameworks. Japan and the European Union signed a free trade accord in July.

Abe said he will go “all-out” in ongoing negotiations among 16 Asia-Pacific countries including China to create a free-trade zone under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

The speech was his first on the international stage since winning another three-year term as head of Japan’s ruling party, setting him up to become the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history.

Abe’s priorities include amending the pacifist Constitution that was promulgated after the second world war and settling long-standing diplomatic challenges.

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In that three-year time frame, Abe pledged to do everything in his power to “clear the post-war structure from Northeast Asia.”

North Korea’s denuclearisation is of utmost concern, Abe said, adding that there is no change in Tokyo’s position that the normalisation of diplomatic ties will not happen unless Pyongyang resolves the issue of the past abductions of Japanese nationals along with the nuclear and missile issues.

“In order to resolve the abduction issue, I am also ready to break the shell of mutual distrust with North Korea, get off to a new start and meet face to face with Chairman Kim Jong-un,” Abe said in his UN address, while stressing that nothing was yet in the works.

“But if we are to have one, then I am determined that it must contribute to the resolution of the abduction issue,” he said.

North Korea kidnapped scores of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train the regime’s spies in Japanese language and culture.

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Former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi travelled twice to Pyongyang to seek a new relationship with the current leader’s father Kim Jong-il and was told by North Korea that remaining abduction victims were dead – a stance adamantly rejected by Japanese family members and campaigners.

Speculation has been rising that Abe could meet with Kim, who reportedly told Trump during their summit in June in Singapore that he was willing to talk to arch-enemy Japan.

With South Korea’s dovish President Moon Jae-in also courting Kim, fears have risen in Japan that it could be shut out of any ultimate resolution on North Korea if it refuses dialogue.

Trump in his own UN address earlier Tuesday pointed to his “bold and new push for peace” and saluted Kim’s courage.

It was a far cry from a year ago, when Trump stunned assembled leaders by threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea and belittling “rocket man” Kim.

Despite Trump’s optimism, many analysts are sceptical on how much North Korea has changed, saying the regime has already conducted the tests it needed to build its nuclear and missile programmes.

Gist of Japan PM Abe’s address

Japan will promote free trade

Hopes to meet with North Korea’s Kim, end mutual distrust

Japan seeks a “win-win” relationship, trade talks with US

North Korea’s denuclearisation is his greatest priority

Determined to aim for a peace treaty with Russia

Will seek multilateral trade accords such as RCEP in Asia.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse