04/12/2012, 00.00
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Noda and Cameron meet, talk defence

by Pino Cazzaniga
The two leaders met on Tuesday and Wednesday in Tokyo. Defence was at the centre of their talks. Great Britain will be only the second country after the United States to cooperate with Japan on weapons development. Cameron calls on Japan to agree to an EU-Japan free trade agreement.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Defence was at the centre of talks between Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his British counterpart, David Cameron, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Initially scheduled for last October, it was postponed because Cameron had to attend a European summit in Brussels.

Talks were important because they were centred on bilateral defence cooperation even though Article 9 of Japan's constitution says, "Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation".

Japan has a long-standing ban on arms export and weapons development and production with other countries; however, last December its government decided to relax the ban on joint weapons development and production. This would be the first time Japan developed weapons with a country other than the United States.

Since his country is a member of the European Union, the British prime minister could also speak on important issues of common interest, including defence.

After he arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday, Cameron went first to the Imperial Palace for an audience with Emperor Akihito who recently underwent major surgery.

After their meeting, Noda and Cameron reiterated the importance of cooperation between Japan and Britain, including their position on how to deal with North Korea and its planned rocket launch, which many countries view as a missile test.

Before leaving Britain, Cameron told reporters that Great Britain is keen to become "Japan's partner of choice" alongside the United States for defence industry collaboration.

"There are many opportunities for defence cooperation (between Britain and Japan) - for instance, in the area of helicopters," Cameron said. "I hope to discuss these issues with Prime Minister Noda so that we can pave the way for our defence ministers to agree more formal cooperation when they next meet".

"I believe stronger cooperation on defence will provide benefits for both countries in terms of jobs and investment as well as reducing the cost of defence equipment upon which we both rely," the prime minister added.

Britain will be only the second country after the United States to collaborate with Japan in this sector.

Speaking about the Fukushima nuclear accident triggered by last year's earthquake and tsunami, the British leader said, "I greatly admire and respect the way the Japanese have overcome the enormous challenges of recovery." British companies, he added, can lend their "significant expertise" in nuclear decommissioning as Japan tackles the triple challenge of cleaning up after the earthquake, tsunami and the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant.

Here Cameron was referring to a meeting on the nuclear challenge that Britain's chief scientific adviser John Beddington will host during the prime minister's visit to Japan, bringing together British companies with their Japanese counterparts and government officials.

According to The Japan Times, Cameron has been pushed for a free-trade area between the European Union and Japan.

"I really hope that we can formally open negotiations later this year," Cameron explained. "But in order to win the argument in the European Union, Japan needs to demonstrate its readiness and commitment to tackling nontariff barriers that keep European companies from doing business in Japan."

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