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Abe in Bxl

Japan’s PM Abe visits EU

7 May 2014

On 7 May Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, visited the EU for talks with President Barroso and President van Rompuy. The Brussels stop was part of a wider European tour with the PM visiting Germany, France, the UK, Spain, Portugal and Belgium. He also met the NATO secretary general for talks on closer cooperation in security affairs. The EU visit concentrated on progress in the negotiations for an EU-Japan free trade agreement and a strategic partnership agreement to cover cooperation in global political issues.

Abe’s European tour came right after President Obama’s visit to Japan in which political and economic issues also featured highly on the agenda. Tokyo managed to secure a statement from Obama that the disputed Senkaku Islands were also covered by the US-Japan defence alliance. But there was no agreement on the TPP negotiations that are already several months passed their deadline.

In Brussels Abe was also given good news, namely that DG Trade would likely propose to member states that the EU should continue the negotiations on an FTA. The talks, which started a year ago, were subject to a review clause after 12 months in which the EU would assess whether sufficient progress had been made, especially on the sensitive area of market access, for the negotiations to continue.

Abe briefed EU leaders on the proposed changes to Japan’s national security strategy which would allow Japanese forces to participate more easily in international peace keeping operations. He also pressed EU leaders to take more interest in the rise of China and its alleged threatening behaviour in the East and South China Seas.

Both sides are now working on plans to breathe more life into their steady if rather unexciting relationship. Both sides are keen to step up security and defence cooperation, in particular crisis management in Africa, as well as in areas such as cyber security, space policy and research and innovation. As members of the G7 the two sides are also working together on global issues including climate change as well as regional security (both neighbourhoods and the Middle East).

Speaking after the meeting Abe said that both sides shared values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The two sides were also close on issues such as nuclear proliferation and the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes. The negotiation of the FTA was just as important as that of the TPP for Japan.  Japan’s closer engagement with the EU was part of its ‘Proactive Contribution to Peace.’

President van Rompuy said that while trade and investment relations remained very important, the strategic partnership was moving into new areas of cooperation. The EU welcomed Japan's readiness to build up an enhanced security partnership with the EU as part of Japan's overall policy to contribute more actively to global peace and security. Japan would now cooperate with EU in a number of civilian crisis management missions, in Africa and the Indian Ocean. Van Rompuy hoped that these first steps would eventually lead to full-fledged Japanese participation in EU crisis management missions and operations in the future.

He said that the EU and Japan had a shared interest to promote regional stability and security - in the EU's Eastern Neighbourhood, in East Asia, in the wider Middle East and in Africa. ‘Our discussions today centred around the question: how to strengthen the rules-based international system and make sure that all countries respect these rules.’ Van Rompuy said that the EU did not take a view on the merits of competing territorial claims in Asia. But the EU had vital interests in the stability and prosperity of the region and considered that differences must be resolved peacefully through active diplomatic engagement and in accordance with international law. He also reaffirmed the EU's willingness to contribute more substantially to promote peace and security in the region and to be more closely involved in the regional architecture.