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Hollande visits Japan to meet anti-austerity Abe

AFP/The Local · 4 Jun 2013, 08:25

Published: 04 Jun 2013 08:25 GMT+02:00

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Just weeks after a visit to regional rival China, French President Francois Hollande arrives in Japan on Thursday, hoping to close deals on nuclear cooperation and in the aviation sector.

He is keen, too, to learn more about "Abenomics", Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's big-spending, loose-money bid to stoke growth in the Japanese economy, to see what lessons could be applied at home

The first state visit by a French president in 17 years takes place against the backdrop of Japanese unease over France's recent moves to build a closer relationship with Beijing.

Hollande is nevertheless expected to find common ground with Abe over economic issues.

His aides have confirmed he is interested in Japan's ambitious growth measures that have seen the country show tentative but promising signs of recovery after years of crisis.

The state visit – which will also see several nuclear agreements signed – is the first by a French leader since sumo-lover Jacques Chirac's trip to Japan in 1996.

Hollande will be accompanied by six ministers, including Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg, as well as some 40 chief executives such as the head of French nuclear giant Areva.

He will be visiting a country that finally appears to be emerging from two decades of stagnation and decline on the back of the reforms enacted by Abe.

"Abenomics" features big government spending and aggressive central bank easing.

Japan posted 0.9 percent quarter-to-quarter growth in the first three months of 2013, and the International Monetary Fund expects the world's third-largest economy to expand 1.6 percent this year.

This is in sharp contrast to France, which like many European countries is in the doldrums economically. It slipped into recession in the first quarter of the year and is registering sky-high unemployment.

As a result, "Abenomics" is drawing increasing interest in Europe, where some critics of the austerity model say that Japan's approach could offer the eurozone an alternative route out of the crisis.

"The Abe government has put in place an extremely daring policy that is showing a certain amount of results," said one aide to the president. "So of course, Francois Hollande will question him on this policy."

On the diplomatic front, Japan expressed concern in March over French naval defence firm DCNS's sale of helicopter landing equipment to China.

The deal comes at a time when Beijing and Tokyo are embroiled in a tense stand-off over a chain of islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China.

This equipment could have a direct bearing on the row by making it easier for Chinese helicopters to land on patrol vessels that Beijing regularly sends into the disputed area, around what Japan calls the Senkaku islands and China the Diaoyu islands.

Japan has lobbied France to issue a signal of support for its position that international law supports its claim to the uninhabited but potentially resource-rich islands. But Paris has refused to publicly take any side in the dispute.

Story continues below…

The two countries are expected to sign agreements in the nuclear sector, where some analysts see opportunities for cooperation are likely to increase.

The pro-nuclear Abe is expected by some commentators to order the re-start of more of Japan's idled nuclear reactors, despite continued public unease in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.

Officials on both sides will sign a partnership agreement between the French government-funded organisation CEA – which does research in the nuclear field – and the NRA, Japan's atomic watchdog.

The visit is also expected to touch on the aviation sector in Japan, where European airplane maker Airbus still has some way to go to catch its US rival Boeing.

Japan's All Nippon Airways (ANA), one of the largest customers for Boeing's troubled Dreamliner, said on Monday it was considering Airbus's A350 as it looks to replace its Boeing 777 fleet.

AFP/The Local (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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