by Staff Writers
Warsaw (AFP) June 16, 2013
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets the leaders of four ex-communist European countries on Sunday at a regional summit in Warsaw, where he is expected to promote the country's nuclear technologies.
On his first trip to Europe since taking over as premier in December, Abe will attend the meeting of the so-called Visegrad Group: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
Then he will head to Northern Ireland where the G8 summit begins Monday.
Analysts say Abe will be trying to generate interest in Japan's nuclear technologies with a view to exporting them to Europe.
"Now whenever Prime Minister Abe shows up abroad, it's Japanese nuclear technology that he promotes," Mariusz Dabrowski, a Japan specialist at the Poland-Asia Research Centre, told AFP.
But nuclear power has become a sensitive issue in Japan after the Fukushima Daiichi plant went into meltdown in 2011. Reactors spewed radiation over a wide area, after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a massive tsunami.
In the wake of the disaster, Japan turned off its 50 reactors for safety checks but has restarted two of them, saying it needs to head off possible summertime power shortages.
Despite vocal public opposition, Abe has said he wants to restart other units when they are proven safe.
Abe's recently unveiled bid to treble Japan's infrastructure exports to 30 trillion yen ($300 billion, 225 billion euros) a year to boost the economy will almost certainly have to include nuclear reactors.
On Sunday, he is expected to sign a nuclear cooperation deal with the Czech Republic in which Prague will undertake to use Japanese nuclear technology.
Ahead of Sunday's meeting, Abe told Poland's Rzeczpospolita daily that countries such as the Visegrad four are attractive markets for Japan.
He hoped to deepen cooperation in science and technology, particularly in the energy sector, he told the paper in an interview published Friday.
Plans for Poland's first nuclear power plant are still up for debate, due to the costs involved.
Nevertheless, said analyst Dabrowski: "Japan is generally interested in Polish energy -- not just nuclear energy but also traditional coal and shale gas".
Beyond energy, Abe is expected to broach the issue of the ongoing talks between Japan and the European Union for what could be one of the world's biggest free trade deals.
The accord could cover some 30 percent of global economic output and 40 percent of trade. The next round of talks are due to take place in Tokyo on June 24-28.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk highlighted the significance of Abe's visit.
It was important he said, "for us that not only China but also Japan, South Korea and other economic powerhouses start looking at Warsaw as a real, nascent investment and financial hub for the whole region".
In 2011 US President Barack Obama attended a similar summit of ex-communist states in Warsaw; and last year Poland hosted then premier Wen Jiabao, the first Chinese leader to visit a quarter of a century.
Abe arrived in Warsaw late Saturday for an event to promote Japanese culture. He will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Sunday before holding talks with Tusk and the other Visegrad Group leaders.
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