ULAN BATOR – After meeting with Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj and Prime Minister Norov Altankhuyag in Ulan Bator, Abe told a news conference the two sides will accelerate ongoing bilateral negotiations toward inking a free-trade accord. The two sides agreed to hold a third round of trade liberalization talks in the Mongolian capital from Tuesday.
“As Mongolia is rich in natural resources, Japan’s technological cooperation will lead to a win-win scenario for both countries,” Abe, the first Japanese prime minister to visit Mongolia in nearly seven years, said after the talks.
Abe also pushed the participation of Japanese companies in developing one of the largest coal deposits in the world, at the Tavan Tolgoi site in the Gobi Desert, during the talks. Japan hopes to secure cheaper supplies of natural resources abroad while its nuclear power stations remains stalled in view of the Fukushima disaster.
The suspension of atomic power plants will drive up utilities’ fuel costs for the operation of thermal power stations to a sky-high ¥3.2 trillion in fiscal 2012, which ends Sunday, far in excess of levels seen before the 2011 meltdowns crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
As well as its abundance of coal, Mongolia is also known for rich mineral resources such as gold, copper and uranium, while rare metals and rare earths deposits could also possibly be extracted.
Aside from economic issues, Tokyo also considers Mongolia an important ally from a diplomatic and security perspective since it has diplomatic relations with North Korea — unlike Japan, which has no formal ties with the communist country — and borders China to the south and Russia to the north.
On North Korea, Abe said the two countries had agreed to deal with its recent provocations to the international community in line with U.N. Security Council resolutions. Given Ulan Bator’s ties with Pyongyang, Abe was especially eager to secure its support in resolving the long-standing issue of the North’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and ’80s, government officials said.
Last November, Ulan Bator hosted the first talks between senior Japanese and North Korean officials since 2008 on the abduction issue.
Meanwhile, Japan, the largest donor to Mongolia, also intends to provide technical assistance to help the country cope with serious air pollution in the capital and assist the building of new transport infrastructure as a way of alleviating heavy traffic in and around it.
Japan was Mongolia’s fourth-largest trading partner last year, when the fast-growing country’s economy jumped 17.3 percent from a year earlier. China, Russia and the United States occupied the top three positions.