SEOUL – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe embarked Monday on a five-day visit to Canada and the United States to hold talks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and attend a U.N. General Assembly meeting to pledge humanitarian support for Syrian civilians.
“I would like to make clear our policy of contributing toward (resolution of) the Syrian issue” to the U.N., Abe told reporters just before leaving from Haneda airport.
The Syrian crisis will be at center stage during the U.N. General Assembly. During his speech, Abe is expected to announce fresh aid worth $60 million to support Syria’s refugees, up from the $10 million initially planned.
The prime minister will also give speeches touting the effects of his “Abenomics” program and what he aims to achieve by reviewing Japan’s defense posture to respond to security threats.
Heading to Canada first, Abe will seek to bolster cooperation with Harper, focusing primarily on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact and exports of shale gas from Canada to resource-thirsty Japan, officials said.
They will also discuss cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the Canadian military on logistic support and other matters.
Syria has agreed to comply with a U.S.-Russian deal to place its chemical weapons under international supervision. Without laying blame on any party, U.N. inspectors have concluded chemical weapons were used Aug. 21 in an attack that killed more than 1,400 people.
Japan is one of the “Group of Four” nations seeking permanent seats on the Security Council, along with Brazil, India and Germany. Abe will call for reform of the council, which is sometimes perceived as slow in taking collective action, given that the U.N. has not been able to pass any meaningful measures regarding Syria’s chemical weapons, the officials said.
Abe is scheduled to hold separate talks with the leaders of France — a supporter of the United States in possible military action against the regime of President Bashar Assad over the use of chemical weapons — and Pakistan.
No date has been set for Abe to hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is also going to New York, is expected to meet with his counterparts from Britain, France, Germany, Australia and Egypt. He will also take up the issue of Iran’s nuclear program with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Away from the U.N., Abe is scheduled to give a speech on Wall Street about the effects of his economic policy, hoping to encourage more foreigners to invest in Japan.
Abe is also expected to discuss security challenges facing Japan in an event hosted by the Hudson Institute think tank. His administration aims to invigorate the U.S.-Japan security alliance by lifting the self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, and amending the U.S.-drafted pacifist Constitution to take on a greater security role.
Behind Abe’s push lies the security threats posed by China’s growing maritime assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Roughly nine months have passed without summit talks between Japan and China or South Korea due to territorial disputes and perceptions of wartime history.
The Foreign Ministry has said Kishida is not scheduled to hold talks with his counterpart from China, while it is trying to set a date for bilateral talks with the South Korean foreign ministry on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
South Korea and Japan have agreed to let their foreign ministers meet Thursday in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting, a Seoul-based newspaper reported Monday.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida will meet Thursday afternoon, the Dong-A Ilbo quoted a diplomatic source as saying.
Yun and Kishida held their first meeting in July on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ regional forum in Brunei.
A summit between President Park Geun-hye, who took office in February, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in power since last December, has yet to be held due to bilateral tensions.
Ties, already strained by the long-standing territorial dispute involving two South Korean-held islets in the Sea of Japan, have been tested further by Japanese politicians’ remarks on historical issues and visits to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo earlier this year.