Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Turkey's economy, diplomatic clout a big draw for Japan

TOKYO -- Japan is going all out to strengthen economic and political ties with Turkey, eager to tap the nation's growth and connections to Europe and the Middle East.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and visiting Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed during talks here Tuesday to officially launch negotiations for an economic partnership agreement as early as this spring.

"We will further enhance our long history of friendship between Japan and Turkey by working with Prime Minister Erdogan," emphasized Abe. Erdogan echoed the sentiment, pledging to promote projects commensurate with the strong ties of the two countries.

On the economic front, Japan will supply 43 billion yen ($407.9 million) in additional yen loans to an Istanbul railway project, on top of the more than 150 billion yen already provided to build a railway crossing the Bosporus Strait. Abe also announced Japan will supply fresh yen loans for Turkish hydroelectric plant facilities to be built with Japanese technology.

As for exporting Japanese nuclear reactors to Turkey, both leaders agreed to expedite parliamentary discussions to approve a bilateral civilian nuclear pact that will enable such transactions.

The latest summit between the two prime ministers was their third since Abe took the helm more than a year ago. Their meeting on Tuesday lasted about an hour and a half. When Erdogan noted that the value of trade between Japan and Turkey reaches less $4 billion a year, Abe asserted "there is room for further expansion."

Turkey has great potential for economic growth. The population, now at 76 million, is growing at an annual pace of 1 million, while its average age of around 30 sustains strong consumer spending. The nation, a vital production base for Europe, aims to expand its economy by some 2.4-fold from now to around 208 trillion yen in 2023.

Turkey's importance goes beyond its economy. The nation straddles both Europe and Asia, making it a strategic partner to Europe and the U.S. as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In light of its geographic proximity to Syria and Iran, Japan sees closer ties with Turkey as a way to develop leverage in the region.

Abe and Erdogan agreed to hold foreign minister meetings on a regular basis to discuss national security. The two nations will also work together to address the Syrian civil war and other diplomatic issues.

But such aggressive, top-level initiatives have also drawn criticism.

Under the planned nuclear pact, Japan is allowing Turkey to enrich and reprocess nuclear material shipped from Japan with some conditions -- actions prohibited under an agreement with the United Arab Emirates. But Japanese opposition parties are objecting to the arrangement, warning that uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing could lead to use in weapons applications.

Also a plan for the Turkish government and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to jointly develop engines for use in military tanks could infringe on Japan's ban on weapons exports. Tokyo will ask Ankara to obtain advance approval before transferring the engines to a third nation. But the Turkish side is said to be expressing reservations about such a requirement.


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