Japanese PM gets high-vis welcome in NW visit

Shinzo Abe yesterday became the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit the Pilbara in 40 years, standing side by side with his Australian counterpart and "friend" Tony Abbott.

Meeting miners in high-vis vests, Mr Abe, who spent three years as an employee of Japan's Kobe Steel before he entered politics, marvelled at his first sight of the iron ore that has fuelled Japanese steel mills and Australian prosperity for decades.

"I have been amazed to actually see this iron ore today for myself for the very first time," Mr Abe said at a ceremony on the edge of a giant open pit at the West Angelas mine, 110km north-west of Newman.

"With the iron ore that has been exported from here, it has been transformed into ships and automobiles in Japan, as well as the trucks that are operating here, and building houses and the other things that have contributed to the Japanese economy."

Mr Abe's Pilbara visit came on day three of an Australian trip during which he and Mr Abbott have signed historic free trade and defence co-operation pacts and forged a close personal relationship.

Two-way trade between Australia and Japan exceeded $70 billion last year, and is topped only by trade with China.

Japan was a foundation investor in billions of dollars worth of Pilbara iron ore and energy projects and Mr Abe said the West Angelas mine, a joint venture between Rio Tinto, Mitsui, Nippon Steel and Sumitomo, was a "symbol of the complementary relationship" between the nations.

Mr Abbott said the Australia-Japan relationship had been built on trust "that each side of the partnership would keep its word". "And that is what I hope will always characterise the relationships between Australia and Japan: trust, good faith and confidence that we will do what we say we will do," he said.

Mr Abe was last night a guest at a dinner hosted by Mr Abbott and Premier Colin Barnett at Crown Perth. Mr Abbott told the dinner that Mr Abe's speech this week was one of the most important made in the Australian Parliament. "It didn't just signal an extraordinary, special relationship between Australia and Japan, but it signaled nothing less than a new Japan... which has learned, assimilated and acted on the lessons of the past," he said.

Mr Abe's speech provoked a sharp reaction in China, which has a strained relationship with Japan. State-owned news service Xinhua said it was "appalling" that the Japanese PM had been invited to address Federal Parliament. Xinhua also criticised Mr Abbott for expressing admiration for Japanese soldiers' skill and sense of honour.

The West Australian

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