Japan and Israel will boost defence cooperation as part of a new comprehensive partnership to enhance bilateral ties, the two countries' prime ministers announced yesterday.
According to a joint statement released after a meeting between visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the two sides agreed to expand their security dialogue and step up top-level exchanges between the defence authorities of both countries.
Senior members of the Self Defence Force, Japan's de facto military, are to visit Israel under the agreement.
Mr Netanyahu, who arrived here on Sunday, is the first Israeli prime minister to visit Tokyo in six years. The last Israeli leader to visit Japan was then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in February 2008.
The two leaders also agreed to explore cooperation in joint industrial research and development. But Japanese officials said earlier that such collaboration would not include the development of military weapons at this stage.
Japan is also hoping that Mr Netanyahu's visit will help to boost limited trade between the two countries, which totalled only US$2.6 billion (S$3.2 billion) last year, or just 0.2 per cent of Japan's overall trade.
Officials are reportedly negotiating an agreement that would help promote bilateral investments.
Japan is seeking to strengthen ties with Israel at a time when it is becoming increasingly dependent on Arab countries for its oil imports, of which over 80 per cent come from the Middle East. Japan is currently highly dependent on fossil fuels as all its nuclear power plants are still offline following the March 2011 tsunami disaster.
Mr Netanyahu's visit comes amid efforts by Israel to deepen economic and political ties with Asian and Latin American countries. Asia has emerged as one of Israel's key export markets, surpassing even the United States.
His visit also coincides with the start of talks in Vienna between Iran and six world powers - the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany - seeking to draw up the text of a comprehensive deal with Iran to rein in its nuclear programme.
The accord is aimed at reducing the scale of Iran's nuclear programme so as to make it extremely difficult for it to make nuclear weapons in a hurry.
In return, all UN sanctions against Iran, as well as unilateral sanctions imposed by individual countries, will be lifted.
Reports said that Mr Netanyahu likely urged Mr Abe to oppose the lifting of such sanctions. Japan maintains friendly relations as well as a diplomatic dialogue with Iran, which is rare among developed countries.
Israel's position is that Teheran's nuclear programme must be completely dismantled in order to prevent the country from building a nuclear weapon. The joint Japan-Israel statement said the two leaders agreed on the need to achieve a real solution of the Iranian nuclear issue.
Today, Mr Netanyahu is due to call on Emperor Akihito. During his visit, the Israeli leader, who is accompanied by his wife and two sons, is also scheduled to travel to the ancient capital of Kyoto.
This article was published on May 13 in The Straits Times.
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