By Keisuke Iwata
TOKYO, Dec. 15, Kyodo
Japan and Cambodia agreed Sunday to advance defense cooperation between the two countries, and to upgrade bilateral relations to a "strategic partnership."
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen oversaw the signing in Tokyo by the defense ministers of both countries of a memorandum of understanding concerning bilateral defense cooperation and exchanges.
"We would like to strengthen tie-ups in addressing issues in the region and the international community," Abe told a news conference after a meeting with Hun Sen.
Hun Sen said the tense situation in the East China Sea represents a source of concern for every country in Southeast Asia, and he was pleased to hear Abe is making efforts to improve relations with China, according to a senior Japanese official who briefed journalists about the meeting.
Hun Sen also supported Japan's call to hold a defense ministers meeting between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko said.
Abe floated the idea during a Japan-ASEAN summit Saturday in Tokyo.
In Sunday's talks with Hun Sen, Abe pledged 13.8 billion yen in new loans for three infrastructure projects in Cambodia, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
Of the total, 6.48 billion yen will be provided to improve the stability of the electric supply grid around Phnom Penh. The rest will cover projects to improve irrigation facilities and a highway linking the capital to Thailand.
Abe and Hun Sen also agreed to start negotiating a bilateral air agreement with a view to launching direct flights between the two countries.
In a separate meeting with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan, Abe requested the Thai authorities ensure the safety of Japanese residents and visitors in the country where large political demonstrations have been held almost daily recently.
Niwatthumrong attended the Japan-ASEAN summit on behalf of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who the demonstrators have demanded resign.