HAVANA - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has arrived in Cuba for the first visit to the country by a Japanese leader with the intention to boost bilateral economic ties and restrain North Korea's nuclear program, as well as meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro and his brother Fidel.
Trade ties between the two countries are very limited and are declining in the moment. This year, Japan is expected to offer aid grants of about one billion yen ($9.9 million) for Cuba to purchase Japanese medical equipment and other machinery.
The signing of this deal took place today in Havana, although Japan's intention from this deal is to open the door for future exports of Japanese technology to Cuba.
Japanese foreign ministry spokesperson Yasuhisa Kawamura said during a press briefing that Raul Castro and Shinzo Abe also discussed the possibility of setting up a Cuban-Japanese medical specialist training center in Havana and promoting academic exchanges between universities of the two nations.
The Japanese prime minister also expressed to both Raul and Fidel Castro his concerns about North Korea's nuclear tests, which pose a "threat to international peace," and asked the Cuban Government for support in its dialogue with Pyongyang since Cuba remains one of the few countries that maintain relationships with North Korea.
In an interview published Thursday in Cuba's Communist Party newspaper Granma, Abe said he wants to open a dialogue regarding a wide range of topics with Cuba.
"I also want to exchange opinions with Cuba, which holds great influence among the non-aligned countries, about the reform of the United Nations Security Council, nuclear disarmament, the situation in Asia and other topics involving the international community," the Japanese leader was quoted as saying.
To pave the way for better trade relations, three days prior Abe's arrival, a bilateral agreement in which Japan waives 120 billion yen ($1.19 billion) out of a 180 billion yen debt that Cuba owes Japan, was signed.
"I firmly believe that Japanese companies can ... make a notable contribution to a Cuba that is updating its socioeconomic model," Abe said.
Cuba and Japan officially established diplomatic relations in 1929 but discontinued these during World War II, later the two nations re-established their diplomatic relations in 1957, two years before the victory of the Revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959.