Fukuda, Rudd affirm economic, security ties but avoid whaling

by Reiji Yoshida

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda agreed Thursday to cooperate on a wide range of issues but left the sensitive subject of whaling effectively untouched to avoid diplomatic friction.

“Prime Minister Fukuda and I have agreed that you can have disagreements between friends,” Rudd told reporters after their meeting in Tokyo. “We will be working in the period ahead diplomatically in search of a solution on this question (of whaling).”

Australia has been one of the strongest opponents of Japan’s research whaling, but the two leaders avoided directly discussing their positions.

Fukuda told reporters they agreed the two countries should “engage in coolheaded discussion” on whaling so it will not “undermine the good bilateral relationship.”

Rudd arrived Sunday for a five-day visit to strengthen economic ties with Japan and affirm cooperation on security involving the United States, as well. It is his first trip to Japan since taking office in December.

In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the two leaders confirmed Japan and Australia are strategic partners sharing common interests and values, and pledged to promote further security cooperation by Japan, Australia and the United States.

Fukuda and Rudd also agreed that a free-trade agreement would “provide a good opportunity” to strengthen the economic relationship, and affirmed their commitment to working toward a mutually beneficial pact.

But they did not hammer out any specific details, only stressing the importance of a “flexible and constructive approach” in negotiations, bearing in mind “the sensitivities” of both sides.

Tokyo and Canberra have been holding FTA talks, but Japanese farmers, particularly those in Hokkaido, strongly oppose a deal with Australia, claiming it would cost the prefecture ¥1.3 trillion and 47,000 jobs.

Fukuda and Rudd reconfirmed the importance of a stable supply of food, energy and mineral resources from Australia to Japan, saying they will examine this matter in the context of the FTA negotiations.

They pledged to cooperate on global efforts to fight climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.