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Abe reaches engineering, economic agreements with Turkmenistan, Mongolia

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov agreed Friday to cooperate on infrastructure development and natural gas plant projects totaling ¥2.2 trillion in the resource-rich Central Asian country.

Abe and Berdimuhamedov also agreed to urge North Korea to follow United Nations Security Council resolutions banning the development of nuclear weapons, and affirmed tie-ups in human resources development in Turkmenistan for advanced industries using Japanese-style engineering education, according to a joint statement issued after their meeting in Ashgabat, the capital.

Given that Turkmenistan has the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves, the leaders welcomed participation by Japanese companies in building gas processing and chemicals plants, the statement said.

With Turkmenistan the source of more than half of China’s natural gas imports, the country aims to diversify exports through the advanced processing of gas, especially at a time when prices have slumped.

Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit Turkmenistan. He is on the second leg of a six-nation, weeklong tour that will also take him to four other Central Asian states.

Observers say the trip is intended to counter China’s growing influence in the resource-rich region with its economic might.

On Thursday evening, Abe visited Mongolia and agreed with Mongolian Prime Minister Chimed Saikhanbileg to advance economic cooperation between the two countries on the back of a free trade agreement signed earlier this year.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Ulan Bator, Saikhanbileg said Mongolia completed legal procedures the same day, paving the way for the FTA, signed in February, to take effect possibly this coming spring.

Abe welcomed the move, saying Japan “would like to cooperate for Mongolia’s development.” The Japanese government won Diet approval for the FTA during the regular Diet session that ended last month.

Saikhanbileg said he and Abe also agreed to cooperate on infrastructure development in Mongolia, including developing the Tavan Tolgoi coal mine, a major project in the country’s south.

Referring to bilateral security cooperation, Abe said he won Mongolia’s backing for greater overseas roles for the Self-Defense Forces under new security laws.

Abe called for continued strategic dialogue involving the two countries and the United States.

“Sharing basic values, Japan and Mongolia are important strategic partners,” he said.

Given that Mongolia has diplomatic relations with North Korea, Abe asked for Ulan Bator’s cooperation in addressing Pyongyang’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

The abduction issue has prevented Japan and North Korea from normalizing diplomatic relations.