National / Politics

After U.N. visit, Abe eyes Cuba visit and offer of ¥120 billion in debt relief

Kyodo, Bloomberg

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering offering Cuba debt relief worth ¥120 billion during his planned visit to the Caribbean nation this month, according to sources.

It will be the first visit by a Japanese prime minister to Cuba, and Abe intends to announce the offer when he holds talks with President Raul Castro.

The amount of relief consists of two-thirds of the ¥180 billion in debt that Cuba owes Japan.

Japan hopes to strengthen ties with Cuba, which it sees as a potential investment destination, in wide-ranging areas such as infrastructure development, tourism and the medical field.

The government decided that the debt relief measure is necessary for promoting such ties, according to the sources.

The debts are uncollected payments and interest derived from payment delays for goods that Japanese companies have exported to Cuba.

Abe is expected to visit the country after attending the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.

After solving the debt problem, government intends to encourage the expansion of Japanese official development assistance and promote Cuban economic reform.

The government is also likely aiming to use Cuba’s amicable relations with North Korea to call for action toward resolving major issues, including the Japanese abductees and Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development programs.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida made the first trip to Cuba by a Japanese foreign minister in May last year.

In March, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years after the two countries resumed diplomatic relations in July last year following a 54-year freeze.

Last week, Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, visited Cuba and delivered personal letters from Abe to Castro and former leader Fidel Castro, Raul’s elder brother.

Japan’s largest trading houses are preparing to increase business in Cuba, seeking opportunities in infrastructure, resources and automobiles as Havana emerges from near isolation.

Mitsubishi Corp., the nation’s largest trader, opened an office in June in Havana and is currently researching potential business deals.

Mitsui & Co. is considering exporting Cuban nickel while Marubeni Corp. said it expects demand for cars and industrial machines to increase.