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Kishida at Diet vows to safeguard nation

Kyodo

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida pledged Thursday to protect Japanese territory and called on China to refrain from escalating tensions over the Senkaku Islands.

In his first foreign policy address to the Diet, Kishida said there is no territorial issue to be resolved concerning the Japanese-administered islets in the East China Sea, adding that China’s maritime assertiveness and opaque military buildup are major regional concerns.

Asia’s two biggest economies have been involved in a tense row over the uninhabited islets, called Diaoyu in China, since the Japanese government brought them under direct state control last September.

Citing a series of regional incidents in his first two months as foreign minister, including North Korea’s nuclear test and China’s directing of weapons-targeting radar at a Japanese destroyer, Kishida said, “I have felt firsthand the severity of the security environment surrounding our country.

“I, as a person in charge of diplomacy, intend to protect our country from the crisis and danger that threaten peace and stability in Japan and the world,” he said.

To this end, Kishida, who was appointed as foreign minister in late December, said that strengthening Japan’s alliance with the United States is essential, while noting that peace and stability in Asia must be maintained based on the principle of the “rule of law.”

The Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker also said Japan will try to proceed with the relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps base within Okinawa’s main island as agreed on by Tokyo and Washington, despite strong local opposition.

Kishida condemned North Korea’s rocket launch in December and nuclear test in February as unacceptable. He said Japan will continue to seek a “comprehensive solution” to outstanding issues between the two countries, including North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

“I’ll do my best to resolve the abduction issue under the policy that no normalization of diplomatic relations is possible without its resolution,” he said.

He said Japan will try to get other countries to cooperate in setting up a new mechanism to look into conditions in North Korea at a meeting next month of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

While Tokyo is engaged in a separate dispute with Seoul over a pair of South Korean-controlled islands in the Sea of Japan, Kishida said Tokyo intends to build “future-oriented, multilayered and stronger” ties with Seoul so overall relations are not damaged by individual issues.

On Russia, he said Tokyo hopes that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit, likely in late April, will provide a springboard for developing bilateral ties as the two countries seek a peace treaty by working to resolve a long-running territorial dispute between them.

In light of the deaths of 10 Japanese workers in the Algerian hostage crisis in January, Kishida proposed establishing a special team to enable the swift dispatch of officials to trouble spots to ascertain the whereabouts of Japanese nationals.

Kishida also asked the Diet to quickly ratify an international convention on settling cross-border child custody disputes, saying the government plans to submit relevant bills to the Diet during the ongoing session that is scheduled to run through late June.

Energy security

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering visiting Middle Eastern countries between late April and early May to help secure energy resources, government sources said Thursday.

Abe has yet to finalize his destinations but the United Arab Emirates and others are on the list, said the sources. The tour is planned for the Golden Week holidays, during which he is also expected to visit Russia, possibly staring April 28, before traveling to the Middle East.

Abe is set to call for cuts in the import price of liquefied natural gas, as higher LNG costs in commodity markets have worsened the nation’s trade balance.

Domestic utilities have increased gas imports to boost thermal power generation as an alternative to stalled atomic power generation because of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear crisis.

Abe has said he will restart idled nuclear reactors if their safety is confirmed, but he is unlikely to make such a decision soon due to public opposition.

While visiting Washington last week, Abe got President Barack Obama to agree to consider authorizing U.S. exports of shale gas to Japan.