Japan PM vows to step up China ties, bolster defence

TOKYO (AP) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged yesterday he will further expand his country’s already improving ties with China but said Japan still needs to bolster its defence capability as far as space amid concern about Chinese military activity and uncertainty over North Korea’s denuclearisation.

In a policy speech to Parliament, Abe omitted references to South Korea, which he had routinely mentioned as Japan’s most important neighbour, as Tokyo tries to distance itself amid escalating spats over history and alleged incidents between the two defence forces.

Abe said Japan-China relations have returned to “normal” since he visited Beijing in October and he now wants to further promote their cooperation in trade and other areas.

“Japan-China relations have fully returned to a normal orbit,” Abe said. “I will elevate it to a next level by deepening exchanges in every area in all levels.”

Apparently drawn closer amid shared trade friction with the United States (US), the two Asian rivals have improved their ties since a low in 2012. Yet, Japan still needs to expand defence capability, especially in space and cyberspace, Abe said.

Japan has repeatedly said China’s growing military presence threatens regional secu-rity and its recent rapid advancement in space technology is an additional concern.

Japanese officials have also said North Korea remains a missile and nuclear threat since it has not taken concrete steps except for a vague promise it made at the June summit with the US.