Japan must strengthen its “economic diplomacy” in negotiating free trade, securing natural resources, exporting technology, and boosting tourism to contribute to an ever-changing Asia and world, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said Monday as the Diet opened for business.

Maehara, a vocal supporter of Japan-U.S. security ties, emphasized in his policy speech that the core of Japan’s economic diplomacy lies in its alliance with Washington.

“A stable region and international environment is essential for Japan to develop its economic diplomacy and strengthen its comprehensive diplomatic ability,” Maehara said.

“The Japan-U.S. alliance is the foundation of Japan’s diplomacy and security, and contributes not only to the Asia-Pacific region but also to the stability and prosperity of the world.”

Maehara vowed to promote high-level economic cooperation with various countries, aiming to start negotiations with Europe and Mongolia, resume talks with South Korea and conclude an economic partnership agreement with Australia.

Echoing Prime Minister Naoto Kan, he said the government hopes to decide by June whether to participate in the multilateral negotiations on the U.S.-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement for free trade.

The importance of securing steady supplies of natural resources was highlighted last year after China effectively halted shipments of rare earth elements to Japan amid tensions between Beijing and Tokyo rose over a maritime run-in near the Senkaku Islands.

“Ever since the Kan administration was inaugurated, we have strengthened cooperation with countries including the U.S., Australia, Mongolia, India, Vietnam and Kazakhstan on mineral resources, especially rare earth materials,” Maehara said, adding that Japan will strategically strengthen cooperation with these nations via various diplomatic approaches.

Maehara also voiced concern about China’s defense budget, which has been expanding by double digits for at least 21 years, and urged Beijing to play an “appropriate” role in the world. He also pointed out the need for the two countries, as the world’s No. 2 and No. 3 economies, to cooperate on everything from developing resources in the East China Sea to curbing climate change and cooperating on international finance.

On the contentious relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, a perpetual cause of friction between Tokyo and Washington, Maehara again apologized to residents of the prefecture.

The Democratic Party of Japan had campaigned before coming to power in 2009 on a promise to move the base out of Okinawa but failed to deliver, disappointing the prefecture.

Instead, Japan and the United States struck an accord last May to move the air base elsewhere in Okinawa, as agreed to in past agreements.

“First, I must offer an apology to Okinawa Prefecture over the circumstances (in which the DPJ took power) and the excessive concentration of U.S. military facilities in Okinawa,” Maehara said.

“The government will steadily put into practice the agreement made between Japan and the U.S. last May, but at the same time, we will devote ourselves to alleviating the burden on Okinawa and make wholehearted efforts to seek the acceptance of the people of Okinawa,” he said.

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.