Chirac winds up pickly Japan visit

29th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

TOKYO, March 28 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac left Japan for home Monday evening after a three-day visit which included a stop at the World Exposition and a dispute over arms sales to China.

TOKYO, March 28 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac left Japan for home Monday evening after a three-day visit which included a stop at the World Exposition and a dispute over arms sales to China.

Chirac flew out of Tokyo's Haneda airport at 10:27 pm (1327 GMT), an official at the airport said.

Chirac on Sunday became the first foreign leader to visit the six-month World Exposition, a showcase of technology and innovation in central Aichi prefecture.

He held a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi marked by disagreement over European Union plans to end an embargo on selling arms to China and a row over whether France or Japan should host a groundbreaking nuclear reactor.

Talks have been deadlocked for months on where to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), with the European Union threatening to go it alone if Japan does not drop its bid.

"France along with Europe hope for Japan's participation as part of the international cooperation on ITER," Chirac said on his visit to Tokyo.

ITER, which would emulate the sun's nuclear fusion, is designed to one day generate inexhaustible supplies of electricity, but is not expected to be operational before 2050.

The United States and South Korea support Japan's offer to build ITER in Rokkasho-mura, a northern Japanese village near the Pacific Ocean, while China and Russia back the EU bid for the southern French town of Cadarache.

European Union leaders at a March 23 meeting in Brussels said they would go ahead with construction in Cadarache and gave Japan until July to agree.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, after talks Sunday with Chirac, said Japan "has no intention to withdraw its bid to invite ITER."

A Japanese foreign ministry official said Koizumi and Chirac agreed in principle for an EU delegation to visit Japan before April 18, when the Europeans will hold a new crucial meeting on ITER in Brussels.

"Japan and France have had fruitful cooperation for more than a quarter century on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. We want this cooperation to continue, including through the ITER program," Chirac said in an interview with the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper published Monday.

Chirac said without further detail that Tokyo had made "constructive proposals" which would designate a sharing of responsibilities between the country which hosts the ITER reactor and the other.

Satoru Ohtake, chief of the Office of Fusion Energy, which handles the ITER issue at the Japanese science and technology ministry, said he did not believe Koizumi and Chirac came "to a new, fresh conclusion per se."

"They have agreed to continue our discussions in search for an answer. They reiterated that they will take the path that we have been taking," Ohtake told AFP.

"We are still negotiating the issue and we want to come to a conclusion that is mutually beneficial," he said.

Chirac also indicated he would press ahead to lift the European Union arms embargo on China, telling a nervous Japan the move would not entail transfers of sensitive weapons or technology.

Chirac, the prime proponent of lifting the 16-year-old EU ban, acknowledged that Japan was worried about arms sales to its neighbour and growing rival but said Beijing's demands were "legitimate."

"The prime minister told me of his concerns. He asked me for explanations," Chirac told a joint news conference after talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

"I indicated to him that the decision of the European Union does not imply a change in exports of sensitive arms or technology to China as they are subject to rules which cannot be broken," Chirac said.

"Hence the decision does not mean things would change. It's a political decision," he said.

"We believe that this lifting is legitimately sought by China and that's why we have taken this decision."

Chirac has vowed to push ahead to lift the embargo by an original European Union goal of the end of June, when the presidency of the 25-member bloc shifts from Luxembourg to Britain.

Britain had suggested that the end of the weapons sale ban could be delayed after China on March 14 gave its army legal power to invade Taiwan if the island seeks formal independence.

Japan and the United States - which has some 40,500 troops in Japan, most of them on Okinawa near Taiwan - have agreed to work together to oppose the lifting of the ban.

"We told the president that we are against it," Koizumi said of the end to the embargo, which was imposed after China's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989.

"In China military spending had seen double-digit growth for more than 10 years. As for Japan, the defense spending has been on decline over the past three straight years," Koizumi told the news conference.

"Japan does not regard China's economic growth as a threat. Rather we regard it as an opportunity. However, in relation to security concerns such as the Taiwan issue Japan has been asking for a peaceful resolution," Koizumi said.

A Japanese foreign ministry official said Chirac told Koizumi that he saw the lifting of the embargo not as a major military measure but as a politically symbolic move for China which wants to boost its international image.

© AFP (combined reports)

Subject: French News

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