British diplomacy to prioritise business: Hague

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Britain's foreign secretary William Hague said Thursday that the new coalition government would prioritise boosting British business through a diplomatic drive, and called for closer ties with Japan.

"Our new government believes that British foreign policy needs to support the UK economy to a greater degree if we are to ensure our recovery and long-term growth," Hague said in a speech at the British embassy in Tokyo.

"Our ambassadors will now be economic as well as political ambassadors for Britain," he said. "I am here in Asia to show that we do mean business."

Hague arrived in Japan Thursday for talks with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada as he looks to boost trade and investment in Britain.

Hague noted that the Foreign Office will put "significant new emphasis" on providing direct support to British business looking to secure opportunities overseas, particularly in emerging economies.

"I am in Japan ... to reaffirm our relationship and to seek a closer partnership in commerce and in foreign policy," he said, a day after he vowed in Beijing that the new government would also strengthen ties with China.

"We have a significant opportunity to deepen our defence and security partnership if British industry, as part of the Eurofighter consortium, is successful in bidding to supply Japan's future fighter aircraft," he said.

"Japan matters to Britain," he continued. "You are our closest partner in Asia." He added that Britain backed Japan's ambition to get a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The shift in economic power away from the West towards the emerging economies means "that Japan, Britain and our allies will have to work harder and influence more countries to protect our interests," he said.

Britain's new coalition government last month delivered a deficit-slashing emergency budget that contained higher taxation and spending cuts designed to narrow the nation's enormous public deficit.

Japan's government has also put the economy at the core of its agenda and has proposed raising consumption tax in order to fix tattered finances and cut a public debt that has spiralled to nearly 200 percent of GDP.

Hague later held talks with his Japanese counterpart Okada, with both sides renewing their pressure on North Korea over the sinking of a South Korean warship as well as its nuclear programme.

Okada told the news conference that both sides also "agreed to demand North Korea take concrete action" to dispel concerns over its nuclear weapons and missile programmes.

Hague said of the sinking of the South Korean warship: "It is very important that it is understood in North Korea that there will never be any reward for such a provocative act."

South Korea, the United States and other nations, including Britain and Japan, accuse the communist state of firing a torpedo which sank the corvette in March with the loss of 46 lives.

The North vehemently denies the allegations and threatens a military response to any attempts to punish it.

© 2010 AFP

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