National / Politics

Abe pledges to promote free trade with Thailand, offers legal and political assistance to Cambodia

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Thai counterpart Prayuth Chan-ocha on Monday confirmed their cooperation in promoting free trade, with the Southeast Asian country expressing its readiness to join the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that Japan has helped spearhead.

In a news briefing after their meeting in Tokyo, Abe said Japan hailed Thailand’s willingness to enter the agreement.

Japan has worked hard to conclude the TPP following the withdrawal of the United States last year under President Donald Trump, and sought to expand the multilateral framework.

“Amid the spread of protectionism in the world, Japan agreed with Thailand, which leads the economic development in the Mekong region, on an early conclusion of the RCEP,” Abe also said, referring to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership involving 16 countries.

The parties to the trade deal — Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea plus the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — are aiming for a broad agreement by the end of the year.

The leaders held the talks ahead of the Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Abe told Prayuth that Japan will cooperate with Thailand to promote the Eastern Economic Corridor, a national project to develop a vast industrial area east of Bangkok, and train industrial personnel in the country.

In response, Prayuth said, “I appreciate Prime Minister Abe’s push to encourage Japanese firms to invest in the Eastern Economic Corridor that is the center of the Thai economy and would lead to the development of the Mekong region.”

He also invited Abe to visit Thailand.

Abe expressed Tokyo’s willingness to help Bangkok assume the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations next year.

The two leaders exchanged views on a variety of regional challenges, including North Korea, the South China Sea and the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, Abe added.

In a separate meeting the same day with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Abe expressed hope for the development of Cambodia through democratic processes amid criticism from the international community over the Southeast Asian nation’s latest election results.

Speaking to reporters, Abe said: “Japan expects Cambodia to develop further through the solidarity of the people and the promotion of its democratic process.”

To that end, Abe said Japan will invite young politicians from various parties and senior officials of the national election board to Japan so that they can learn about the country’s electoral systems.

Japan will also provide support to strengthen transparency and fairness in Cambodia’s legal process, Abe added.

The Hun Sen administration has been under fire as his ruling party won all the seats in the National Assembly in July’s general election after the opposition was forced to dissolve ahead of the race.

Hun Sen, who has been in power for 33 years, said he was “very satisfied” with Abe’s proposals, adding they will contribute to the development of democracy in his country.

“I expect the younger generation to build a democratic culture,” the Cambodian leader said.

Hun Sen extended his gratitude for Abe’s readiness to help Cambodia bid to host the Asia-Europe Meeting in 2020.

If the summit is convened as planned, it will be the first time the Southeast Asian nation has hosted such a large gathering of leaders from the two continents.

As this year marks the 65th anniversary since Japan and Cambodia established diplomatic ties, Abe also promised to offer up to ¥3.6 billion ($31.6 million) in low-interest loans to repair and build irrigation facilities around Tonle Sap Lake, which is one of the biggest lakes in Southeast Asia.