• SHARE

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday will visit East Timor, which will gain its independence on May 20, as part of a weeklong trip that will also take him to Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand.

During his half-day stop in Dili, Koizumi plans to visit a Self-Defense Forces detachment stationed there as part of the U.N. peacekeeping operation in East Timor, government officials said.

They said Koizumi will meet in East Timor’s capital with former guerrilla leader and President-elect Xanana Gusmao and Sergio Vieira de Mello, who is U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special representative to the partially U.N.-administered territory.

He will also hold a separate meeting with Mari Alkatiri, expected to become the fledgling country’s first prime minister, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos Horta, tipped to become its foreign minister.

Koizumi will arrive in Vietnam on Saturday on the first leg of his trip. He will meet with Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and President Tran Duc Luong to discuss the recent surge in Japanese investment in Vietnam and assess progress being made in talks toward concluding a bilateral investment protection agreement.

Japan, which for years has been Vietnam’s biggest official development assistance donor and its largest trading partner, is also one of its top sources of foreign investment.

Officials said Koizumi will also touch on Japan’s expanding ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Vietnam joined in 1997. In January, he visited ASEAN’s five original members of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Before leaving Hanoi on Sunday afternoon, Koizumi will hold talks with Vietnamese Communist Party chief Non Duc Manh.

After visiting East Timor on Monday, Koizumi will head Tuesday to Canberra, where officials said he will urge Prime Minister John Howard in talks the following day to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on curbing global warming.

But they acknowledged that ratification is unlikely without the cooperation of the United States.

The two sides are also expected to explore options for a “closer economic partnership” through the Trade and Investment Facilitation Agreement, which falls short of a free-trade agreement due to Japan’s protectionist agriculture policy.

Japan has concluded an FTA with Singapore, is studying ones with South Korea and Mexico, and is exploring ways to further strengthen economic relations with all 10 ASEAN nations. Australia is close to reaching an FTA with Singapore, is negotiating one with the United States and discussing one with Thailand.

Japan, Australia’s largest export market since 1966, has proposed an increase in schemes whereby Japanese capital is combined with Australia’s land and natural resources, and the two countries together provide human resources, technical knowledge and capability, exporting the end result to larger markets overseas.

After an overnight stopover in Sydney, Koizumi will fly to Wellington on Thursday for talks with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who visited Japan last April.

The talks are expected to take up the contentious issue of Japan’s research whaling program, which Clark has publicly described as “commercial whaling in disguise,” as well as its transport of recycled nuclear fuel through the Pacific.

New Zealand has also called for an FTA with Japan, which is its third-largest export market, but has said Tokyo would first need to revise its farm policy.

During the planned meetings with the Australian and New Zealand leaders, officials said, Koizumi will elaborate on his vision unveiled in January in Singapore for the creation in East Asia of a “community that acts together and advances together.”

Koizumi included Australia and New Zealand among the “core members” of such a community, which would also embrace the 10 ASEAN countries, Japan, China and South Korea.

The proposal was welcomed in Canberra and Wellington, with Australia thanking Japan for seeking to engage it comprehensively in regional cooperation, but it drew a mixed response in Southeast Asian capitals, Kuala Lumpur in particular.

Koizumi is also expected to assuage any concerns in Australia about his initiative for the Japan-ASEAN Comprehensive Economic Partnership and explain his idea of using Japan-ASEAN cooperation as a platform to strive for “multitiered development” of regional frameworks for cooperation.

Australia, in particular, has been concerned that it could be pushed aside in trade talks between Japan and ASEAN, as well as among Japan, ASEAN, China and South Korea, which in recent years have been holding regular meetings at all levels.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW