TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged he will further expand his country’s already improving ties with China but said Japan still needs to bolster its defence capability as far as space amid concern about Chinese military activity and uncertainty over North Korea’s denuclearisation.
In a policy speech to Parliament, Abe omitted references to South Korea, which he had routinely mentioned as Japan’s most important neighbour, as Tokyo tries to distance itself amid escalating spats over history and alleged incidents between the two defence forces.
Abe said Japan-China relations have returned to “normal” since he visited Beijing in October and he now wants to further promote their cooperation in trade and other areas.
“Japan-China relations have fully returned to a normal orbit,” Abe said.
“I will elevate it to a next level by deepening exchanges in every area in all levels.”
Apparently drawn closer amid shared trade friction with the US, the two Asian rivals have improved their ties since a low in 2012 during a dispute over east China Sea islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China.
Yet, Japan still needs to expand defence capability, especially in space and cyberspace, Abe said.
Japan has repeatedly said China’s growing military presence threatens regional security and its recent rapid advancement in space technology is an additional concern.
Japanese officials have also said North Korea remains a missile and nuclear threat since it has not taken concrete steps except for a vague promise it made at the June summit with the US.
Japan, under pressure from President Donald Trump’s demand for more American imports, is to start trade talks with Washington later this year.
Japan has already increased purchases of expensive US missile defence systems and other arms.
Maintaining good ties with China is one of the most important diplomatic goals for Abe, but analysts said it may be affected by how things work out between the United States and China.
“Even if Prime Minister Abe wants to further improve Japan-China relations, it would be influenced by US-China relations,” said Harukata Takenaka, international politics professor at National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
“It would be difficult for Japan to make a decision by itself.” — AP
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