Last updated Monday, September 26, 2016 10:02 am GMT+8

Friday September 23, 2016
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Cuba’s President Raul Castro (centre) and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (right) review the honour guard during an official reception ceremony at Havana’s Revolution Palace, Cub, September 22, 2016. — Reuters picCuba’s President Raul Castro (centre) and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (right) review the honour guard during an official reception ceremony at Havana’s Revolution Palace, Cub, September 22, 2016. — Reuters picHAVANA, Sept 23 — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Cuba yesterday for the first visit to the country by a Japanese premier, saying he wants to “open a new page” in relations.

Abe met with Cuban President Raul Castro during a visit that comes after Tokyo’s close ally Washington restored ties with the communist island last year.

“I sincerely hope my stay here becomes an opportunity to open a new page in the relationship of friendship between both nations,” Abe said in an interview published in the Cuban Communist Party’s official newspaper, Granma.

He also met Raul’s brother and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro to discuss nuclear proliferation.

The two men “discussed the complexities and hazards affecting the world and the need to strengthen efforts toward the elimination of nuclear weapons and preservation of peace,” an official statement read on television said.

Cuba is one of the few countries that maintains relationships with North Korea, whose nuclear ambitions are considered one of Japan’s biggest security threats.

Abe also called for “open dialogue” to stimulate trade and investment, development cooperation and tourism.

The head of the world’s third-largest economy was received with military honors at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, where he had a private meeting with Castro. Later, he placed a floral tribute at the monument to the Cuban hero Jose Marti.

The Japanese premier is scheduled to hold a news conference this morning before departing the Caribbean island.

Japan was Cuba’s second-largest trading partner between 1970 and 1985, but the relationship deteriorated drastically as the Cuban economy took a hit from the breakup of the Soviet Union, the country’s key ally, in the early 1990s. Trade totalled about US$35 million in 2014.

On Monday, Cuba signed a debt restructuring deal with Japan according to which Tokyo will forgive part of Cuba’s debt, leaving it to pay US$606 million. Of that, $249 million is set to be deposited in an investment fund for Japanese businesses on the island, the Japanese government said. — AFP

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