Japan eyes ‘large-scale’ cooperation with Cuba

havana-live-japan-cuba HAVANA, May 3  (AFP)  Visiting Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Saturday that Tokyo wants to launch “large-scale cooperation” with Havana to support the communist island’s reforms.

In Cuba’s first visit from a Japanese foreign minister, Kishida met with President Raul Castro to discuss “the positive direction” of their ties, a government statement read out on state television said.

Kishida said Japan supports U.S. and Cuban efforts to normalize relations and that Tokyo wants to take its own ties with Havana to “a new level.”

Kishida, who traveled with a delegation of 30 business leaders, said Tokyo wants to launch a “new scheme of Japanese cooperation of wide range, large scale” to support the reforms undertaken by Castro.

Speaking at a meeting with Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez, he said the program was called “nonreimbursable financial assistance.”

“Secondly, we would like to consolidate our economic relations,” Kishida said.

For his part, Rodriguez said relations with Japan are a “priority” and that Cuba has “the willingness to deepen bilateral ties in all areas, including trade, investment, scientific cooperation and multifaceted cooperation.”

Kishida’s spokesman, Ken Okaniwa, told reporters on Thursday that the U.S. embargo against Cuba, in force since 1962, is making it difficult for Japanese companies to do business with the island.

Bilateral trade amounts to ¥6.25 billion ($52 million), with Japanese exports to Cuba accounting for two-thirds of that sum. Cuba buys machinery from Japan and in turn exports tobacco, coffee and fish, Okaniwa said.

In a surprise announcement in December, Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama said they would work to normalize ties that have been under severe strain for over 50 years.

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

Banking on Cuba’s close ties with North Korea, Kishida also asked Rodriguez to help Tokyo to resolve the abduction issue with North Korea. The issue dates back to the 1970s and 1980s.

The two also agreed to launch a bilateral dialogue on U.N. reform, with Japan hoping to get permanent seat on the Security Council, according to the officials.