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Japanese PM to discuss North Korea, economic ties during rare Cuba trip

Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - 13:58
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will seek Cuba's help in responding to North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes during a rare visit to Havana next week, a spokesman said, and also hopes to expand Japanese business interests on the island.

[TOKYO] Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will seek Cuba's help in responding to North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes during a rare visit to Havana next week, a spokesman said, and also hopes to expand Japanese business interests on the island.

Mr Abe will become the first Japanese leader to visit Communist-ruled Cuba, which is one of North Korea's few diplomatic allies and is also slowly re-emerging after decades of international isolation and a US trade embargo.

His trip follows the normalisation of ties last year between Cuba and the United States, former Cold War enemies, and US President Barack Obama's visit to Cuba earlier this year.

Japan, South Korea and the United States have been strengthening their alliance since North Korea's nuclear test last week, its fifth and largest, which alarmed the North's East Asian neighbours.

"We would ... like to seek Cuba's understanding and cooperation for the resolution of North Korea-related issues such as abduction (of Japanese citizens), nuclear and missiles," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference on Wednesday.

The United States has called for a swift and strong United Nations response to Pyongyang, while its envoy on North Korea has also said Washington remained open to meaningful dialogue with the North on ending its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Japan is also keen to build business ties with Cuba, which began normalising relations with the United States in Dec 2014 before full diplomatic ties were restored.

More than 100 US business delegations have visited Cuba since 2014, although many US companies say the decades-old trade embargo makes business almost impossible.

"We aim to support Japanese companies' expansion there by encouraging Cuba, which has attracted global attention since the resumption of diplomatic ties with the United States last year, to improve its business and investment environment," Mr Suga said.

Japan's Kyodo news agency reported last week that Mr Abe has decided to forgive two-thirds of the 180 billion yen (S$2.38 billion) debt Cuba owes to Japan as part of Tokyo's effort to forge tighter bilateral economic ties.

Mr Abe will formally announce the offer during his meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, Kyodo reported.

REUTERS