Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday that his visit to Cuba, the first ever by a Japanese leader, had turned a new page in bilateral relations and the two countries would now deepen their economic relationship.
Abe, who met on Thursday with Cuban President Raul Castro and his predecessor and older brother Fidel Castro, said the issue of unpaid debt had long constrained this relationship.
Yet this was no longer an obstacle, he told a news conference in Havana, as the two countries had agreed on a plan to reorganise that debt. Some will become financing for development projects that could involve Japanese companies, reports Reuters.
"This visit has turned a new page in 400 years of Japan-Cuba friendship," Abe said. "I met with Raul Castro and agreed to intensify our economic cooperation".
Many of Cuba's long-term trading partners are using debt forgiveness, swaps and new financing to try to win investment opportunities on the island ahead of their U.S. competitors in the wake of the detente between Havana and Washington.
"Cuba is an extremely attractive investment destination for Japan," Abe said. "As the U.S. has eased sanctions, Cuba has made efforts to improve its investment environment."
"I believe that this will prompt both trade and investment by Japanese firms," he added.
Cuba boasts a highly educated workforce, security and a strategic geographic position, he said. There was also a "huge demand for infrastructure" on the Caribbean island that could become a hub between Asia, the Americas and Europe.
Abe said the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) would also be establishing a permanent office in Cuba and Japan would be donating 1.27 billion yen of medical equipment to the country.
The Japanese leader said he had agreed with Raul Castro to cooperate on various challenges in the international community, and had raised the issue of North Korea's nuclear programme.
Cuba is one of North Korea's few diplomatic allies, along with China, and a fellow member of the non-aligned movement formed in 1961 by states wanting to avoid siding with the United States or the Soviet Union.
The prime minister had also expressed his gratitude to Raul Castro for Cuba's support for Japan's candidature as permanent member of UN Security Council, his office said. - IH