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Japan to remain Australia’s ‘best friend in Asia,’ new foreign minister says

Kyodo

Australia’s new government will strive to keep Japan as its “closest partner” in Asia while maintaining trade relations with China, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Tuesday on her first visit to Tokyo in her new post.

Australia will “put economic diplomacy first,” Bishop told a news conference in Tokyo ahead of talks with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

The coalition government led by the Liberal Party of Australia, of which Bishop is deputy leader, returned to power last month after nearly six years of Labor Party rule.

Bishop said her government recognizes that Japan and Australia “share values and strategic interests,” including democratic freedoms and positions on regional and global issues.

“Having so much in common, it’s not surprising that we should describe Japan as our best friend in Asia — not only to say it, but mean it,” Bishop said.

“But that’s not to deny that we will continue to work on our relationship with China,” she said, adding that Australia can manage its relations with both countries by “being open and frank.”

Japan is Australia’s second-largest trading partner behind China, with 71 billion Australian dollars (around ¥1.6 trillion) of trade between the countries in 2012, Bishop said.

The new government, under Liberal leader Tony Abbott, will repeal regulations and certain taxes to attract foreign investment, Bishop said, noting that Japan is the largest Asian investor in the country.

Bishop said Japan and Australia must play an important role in strengthening regional and global forums such as the East Asia Summit and the Group of 20. She added that Australia supports Japan being granted a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.