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According to new reports, CIA director Mike Pompeo travelled to North Korea for a secret meeting with Kim Jong-un.

The meeting to prepare for direct talks between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader took place over Easter weekend, unnamed officials said.

President Trump had earlier alluded to high-level direct talks with North Korea.

However, this unexpected and clandestine meeting would mark the highest level US contact with North Korea since 2000.

President Trump said from Florida, where he is hosting Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe: “We have had direct talks at… extremely high levels.”

He added that he gave his “blessing” for talks between South Korea and North Korea to discuss a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War.

South Korea has also signaled that it may pursue a formal resolution of the conflict. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un are scheduled to meet at the end of April.

The news that President Trump’s nominee for secretary of state had travelled to Pyongyang for a secret meeting with Kim Jong-un was first reported by The Washington Post.

Very little is known about the talks other than that they were to prepare for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit.

According to The Washington Post, the meeting took place soon after Mike Pompeo was nominated as secretary of state and is attributed to two anonymous sources “with direct knowledge of the trip”.

Later the Reuters said the report had been confirmed to them by senior officials.

The White House has not commented.

The US does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, although diplomats have visited in the past and there are some so-called “back channels” used to communicate with Pyongyang.

Image source Wikimedia

President Trump Fires Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Naming CIA Director Mike Pompeo as Replacement

Mike Pompeo’s trip was the highest level meeting with a North Korean leader since 2000 when then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader, in Pyongyang.


In 2014, the then-head of National Intelligence James Clapper visited North Korea in a secret mission to negotiate the release of two US citizens. James Clapper did not meet Kim Jong-un during his trip.

President Trump stunned the international community last month by accepting North Korea’s suggestion for direct talks. It would be unprecedented for a sitting US president to meet a North Korean leader.

Donald Trump said the summit would take place either in early June or “a little before that” and that several sites were under consideration but that none of them were in the US.

Analysts have speculated that a location for talks could be the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North Korea and South Korea, Beijing, another Asian country, Europe or even a vessel in international waters.

North Korea has been isolated for decades because of its well-documented human rights abuses and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, in defiance of international laws and UN sanctions.

Pyongyang has carried out six nuclear tests, and has missiles that could reach the US.

However, South Korea’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in February gave an unexpected window for diplomacy and in the weeks since there have been a flurry of visits to North Korea from China, South Korea and now the US.

President Trump’s estimate that a meeting could take place in June or earlier appears to be one the administration is taking seriously.

However, news of Mike Pompeo’s visit is also likely to overshadow the other key diplomatic balancing act under way, which is the important relationship with Japan, a key US ally and neighbor of North Korea.

There have been fears in Tokyo that President Trump’s plans for bilateral talks could sideline Japan and Shinzo Abe is currently in Washington for talks with the US leader.

Relations between the two men appeared cordial on this, the second time that President Trump has welcomed Shinzo Abe to his Mar-a-Lago resort.

On April 17, President Trump insisted that the two countries were “very unified on the subject of North Korea”, and PM Shinzo Abe praised the president’s handling of the North Korea issue.

However, observers say Shinzo Abe’s goal for his US trip will be to persuade President Trump as much as he can not to sway from the West’s hard line on North Korea.

PM Shinzo Abe has repeatedly sought to portray a close personal relationship with President Trump and was the first foreign leader to meet him in New York after his election victory in 2016.

Japan voters head to the polls after PM Shinzo Abe called a snap election in the face of the rising threat from North Korea.

Shinzo Abe called the election amid rebounding approval ratings after a record low over the summer and with the opposition largely in disarray.

The prime minister is predicted to win a majority, after the opposition fell apart.

A challenge from Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike appears to be fizzling out.

Shinzo Abe is hoping his party will win a two-thirds majority, allowing him to make constitutional changes. In particular, he wants to change Japan’s self-defense force into a national army for the first time since World War II.

Image source kremlin.ru

North Korea Launches Four Ballistic Missiles into Sea of Japan

North Korea Fires Missile over Northern Japan

North Korea Launches New Ballistic Missile over Japan

What impact, if any, Typhoon Lan will have on turnout remains to be seen. The category 4 storm brought strong winds and heavy rain to the south of the country, causing flights to be canceled and rail services to be disrupted.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, Typhoon Lan is expected to blow into the Tokyo area early on October 23.

PM Shinzo Abe announced the election on September 25, saying he needed a fresh mandate in order to deal with the “national crises” facing Japan.

The crises include North Korea, which has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea. North Korea has also fired two missiles over Hokkaido, an island to the north.

Other areas up for debate in the election are the post-Fukushima nuclear policy and the issue of tax.

The polls close at 20:00 local time.

Japan’s economy grew at its fastest pace for more than two years in Q2 as consumer spending and capital expenditure ramped up.

GDP expanded at an annualized rate of 4% in the April-to-June period, government data showed, beating expectations for a 2.5% rise.

The world’s third-largest economy grew 1% compared to the previous quarter.

Japan is enjoying its longest economic expansion in a decade, buoyed by spending and investment.

The country’s economy has been gaining strength thanks to rising exports, including smart phones and memory chips.

Investment tied to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has also given the country’s economy a boost in recent months.

Image source Wikimedia

Japan economy enters contraction starting with Q3 2012

Japan’s Economy Shrinks 0.4% in Q4 of 2015

Japan’s economy slips into recession

Strong domestic demand helped to offset a drop in exports during Q2.

Japan has been trying to lift consumer spending, which accounts for more than a half of the country’s GDP.

The latest figures could be a help to PM Shinzo Abe who pledged to reignite growth and spending through his Abenomics reforms.

Shinzo Abe has seen his popularity sink recently over a series of scandals including claims he exploited his political power to help a friend.

Japan has battled years of deflation, or falling prices, and slow growth following an equity and property market bubble in the early 1990s.

The Abenomics program, a mix of monetary easing, government spending and structural reforms, was designed to reignite the once-booming economy and lift consumer prices.

Falling prices can discourage spending by consumers, who might put off purchases in the hopes that prices will drop further.

That hurts businesses, as it can stop companies from increasing production, hiring new staff or increasing wages.

North Korea has conducted a ballistic test in for the first time since President Donald Trump took office.

President Trump assured Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe that “America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100%”.

The ballistic missile fired by North Korea flew east towards the Sea of Japan for about 310 miles, South Korean officials say.

PM Shinzo Abe said the test was “absolutely intolerable”. According to Japanese officials, the missile did not reach its waters.

Speaking at a joint press conference during a visit to the US, Shinzo Abe added that Donald Trump had also assured him that he was committed to “further enforcing our alliance”.

North Korea has conducted a number of nuclear tests in the past year in acts of aggression that continue to alarm and anger the region.

Image source Reuters

February 12 launch took place at 07:55 local time from the Banghyon air base in North Pyongan province on the west side of the Korean peninsula.

The missile reached an altitude of about 350 miles, according to a South Korean official quoted by Reuters, and appeared to be a Rodong medium-range missile.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said: “North Korea’s repeated provocations show the Kim Jong-un regime’s nature of irrationality, maniacally obsessed in its nuclear and missile development.”

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga confirmed the missile had not reached Japanese territorial waters, adding that Tokyo would make a “strong protest” to North Korea over the incident.

There has so far been no comment from North Korea.

Kim Jong-un said last month that North Korea was close to testing long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

On a visit to South Korea last week, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that any use of nuclear weapons by North Korea would be met with an “effective and overwhelming” response.

James Mattis also reconfirmed plans to deploy a US missile defense system in South Korea later this year.

North Korea conducted its fifth test of a nuclear device in 2016, and claims it is capable of carrying out a nuclear attack on the US, though experts are still unconvinced that its technology has progressed that far.

North Korea has also said in recent weeks that it has a new intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of reaching the US mainland, which it is prepared to test launch at any time.

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has visited Pearl Harbor naval base, where he offered “sincere and everlasting condolences” to the victims of the 1941 Japanese attack on the base.

Shinzo Abe said: “We must never repeat the horrors of war again, this is the solemn vow the people of Japan have taken.”

He was accompanied by President Barack Obama, making the visit the first by the leaders of both countries.

Japan devastated much of Pearl Harbor base, killing more than 2,400 Americans.

Shinzo Abe paid tribute to the men who lost their lives in 1941 at the naval base, many of whom remain entombed in the wreckage of the USS Arizona, sunk by the Japanese that day, and vowed reconciliation and peace.

He said: “To the souls of the US servicemen who lie aboard the USS Arizona, to the American people, and all people around the world, I pledge that unwavering vow.”

Image source Reuters

Shinzo Abe went on to praise the US for its efforts to mend relations with Japan following the war between the two countries, which ended shortly after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945.

The prime minister called the renewed alliance between the countries an “alliance of hope”.

President Obama also paid tribute to the dead, saying that he had laid a wreath on “waters that still weep”.

He said: “That morning the ranks on those men’s shoulders reflected them less than the courage in their hearts.”

Barack Obama welcomed Shinzo Abe “in the spirit of friendship, in the manner Japan has always welcomed me”.

ShinzoAbe is the first Japanese leader to visit the memorial on the site of the Arizona, although several of his predecessors have been to Pearl Harbor in the past.

The Japanese prime minister and President Obama laid wreaths at the site and the two leaders prayed for the dead.

However, as expected, Shinzo Abe did not issue an apology for the attack.

Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor damaged all eight of the US battleships at the base and sunk four of them, propelling the US into World War II.

Nearly half of those killed were on the Arizona and the remains of most are still entombed in the wreckage.

All eight battleships at the base were damaged and four were sunk. But the key US aircraft carriers were at sea at the time.

On December 26, Shinzo Abe visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and laid a wreath.

He stood for a moment of silence at the cemetery near central Honolulu, a memorial to those who died the Pacific theater of war.

Shinzo Abe also held a summit meeting with Barack Obama in Hawaii, their last before President Obama steps down in January.

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Vladimir Putin has declined to accept Japan’s offer of an Akita dog as a gift, according to a Japanese lawmaker.

Koichi Hagiuda did not give a reason as to why the gift had been rejected.

Japan gave the Russian president a female Akita called Yume in 2012. This dog was intended as a companion for her.

Image source Flickr

Image source Flickr

Koichi Hagiuda wrote in a blog post: “Unfortunately, we heard from our counterparts, and our hope to present a bridegroom was dashed.”

If accepted, the gift would have been presented to Vladimir Putin at a summit with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe in Japan next week.

Akita dogs originate from northern Japan.

Vladimir Putin also owns a male Bulgarian Shepherd called Buffy, which was given to him by the Bulgarian prime minister in 2010.

His Labrador, Konni, given to him as a gift by Sergey Shoigu, currently Russian defense minister, died in 2014.

Vladimir Putin once brought Konni to a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is scared of dogs. Some press reports at the time said he had done so to intimidate her. But earlier this year, he told a German newspaper that he did not know about Angela Merkel’s fear.

Vladimir Putin said: “When I learned that she does not like dogs, I apologized, of course.”

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The Japanese prime minister has said he has “great confidence” in President-elect Donald Trump and he believes they can build a relationship of trust.

Shinzo Abe described the 90-minute meeting in Trump Tower, New York, as “candid”, with a “warm atmosphere”.

Some of Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric cast doubt over long-standing US alliances, including with Japan.

The meeting was Donald Trump’s first face-to-face with a world leader since winning the presidential election.

Image source Reuters

Image source Reuters

The United States and Japan have been key allies since the end of World War Two, when the US helped Japan rebuild its economy.

Donald Trump has vowed to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which PM Shinzo Abe strenuously supports as a means of countering China’s growing economic strength.

The deal was approved by the Japanese parliament, despite the likelihood that it would be cancelled when Donald Trump takes office.

The president-elect has also said Japan needs to pay more to maintain US troops on its soil, and has floated the idea that Japan and South Korea should develop their own nuclear weapons to counter the threat from North Korean missiles.

The meeting was reportedly arranged when Shinzo Abe rang Donald Trump to congratulate him, mentioning that he would be passing through New York on the way to an Asia-Pacific trade summit in Peru.

Speaking after the meeting, Shinzo Abe said: “We were able to have a very candid talk over a substantial amount of time. We held it in a very warm atmosphere.

“I do believe that without confidence between the two nations the alliance would never function in the future and as the outcome of today’s discussion I am convinced Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have great confidence.”

The first foreign leader to meet President-elect Donald Trump is Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe.

The Japanese prime minister said he wanted to “build trust” and “work together for prosperity and world peace”, before leaving for his trip.

The New York meeting on November 17 comes amid concern over the foreign policy direction of Tokyo’s biggest ally.

Donald Trump has said Japan needs to pay more to maintain US troops on its soil.

Image source india.com

Image source india.com

During his campaign, the Republican candidate also condemned a major trade deal struck by President Barack Obama with Japan and other Pacific Rim countries.

The US and Japan have been key allies since the end of World War Two, when the US helped Japan rebuild its economy.

Shinzo Abe is stopping in New York on his way to an Asia-Pacific trade summit in Peru.

However, details of today’s meeting are unclear, with a Japanese official saying exactly where it will happen has not been firmed up.

“There has been a lot of confusion,” a Japanese official told Reuters.

Donald Trump has also yet to select his new cabinet and other positions. He has denied that the transition to the White House is in a disarray.

The president-elect and Vice President-elect Mike Pence have spoken with 29 world leaders since the election, according to a statement from the transition team.

It remains unclear who else might be at the meeting with PM Shinzo Abe.

High-level talks are rarely held in such an informal context and Tokyo is keen to minimize uncertainty during the long handover of power.

Senior Japanese foreign ministry official Tetsuya Otsuru said about meeting: “We want to safeguard our alliance with the United States during the transition.”

Japan stock market traded low as the yen surged after the Bank of Japan decided against any extra monetary easing.

The Bank of Japan (BoJ) kept interest rates unchanged despite coming under pressure to take further action.

The central bank had introduced negative rates in January but this failed to provide a much needed boost for the economy.Bank of Japan QE decision 2015

The Nikkei 225 index finished 3.6% lower at 16,666.05. New economic data also showed a slip back into deflation while industrial production expanded.

Japan has for years been trying to boost its economy and end a period of stifling deflation.

One way to try to achieve this is by monetary policy, which is one of PM Shinzo Abe’s three key “Abenomics” policies to turn around the economy.

However, even negative rates – meaning commercial banks will be charged if they deposit money with the central bank – have not trickled down to get banks to lend more and companies and people to invest or spend more.

Inflation is still far off the 2% target.

The BoJ’s decision to hold rates also sent the yen currency soaring, which is likely to have a negative effect on the crucial export sector.

The yen rose nearly 2% against the dollar, with one dollar worth 109.33 yen.

The Japanese economy contracted by 0.4% in Q4 of 2015 compared with the previous quarter, official figures show.

Expectations for the numbers were for a quarterly contraction of 0.3%.

Weaker domestic demand, together with slower investment in housing, contributed to the disappointing numbers.

On an annualized basis, Japan’s economy contracted 1.4% during the period. That compares with expectations for an annualized contraction of 1.2%.

The annualized figure is the rate at which the economy would have contracted over a full 12 months had the December quarter been a reflection of the entire year.Japan economy Q4 2015

PM Shinzo Abe’s plan to revive the economy – dubbed Abenomics – was introduced after his December 2013 election win.

Its aim was to combat deflation, which Japan has struggled with for nearly two decades, as well as boost demand and investment. It also wanted to weaken the yen, so helping big exporters like Toyota become more competitive.

However, growth has remained a concern. Analysts say Japan needs to ensure exports grow in order to support future economic growth – for every 1% that Japan’s economy grows, between 0.5 and 0.7% comes from exports.

Japan also relies heavily on domestic consumption but its population is ageing and shrinking so fewer people are contributing to the economy.

In Q3 of 2015, according to revised numbers, Japan avoided a technical recession. It has already been in recession four times since the global financial crisis.

Some analysts said February 15 numbers should be viewed in context.

“A single negative growth number should not be over-interpreted because the economy remains in rather good shape and continues to get strong policy support,” said economist Martin Schulz.

Investors seemed to shrug off February 15 growth numbers, with the benchmark Nikkei 225 jumping more than 4% shortly after the figures were released.

However, the benchmark shed more than 11% last week, which was a short trading week due to a public holiday on February 11.

Japan’s big exporters were particularly hard hit as a stronger yen against the dollar hurt investor sentiment.

Japan’s Economy Minister Akira Amari has announced he is resigning amid corruption allegations.

Akira Amari unexpectedly made the announcement at a press conference in Tokyo on January 28.

He again denied personally receiving bribes from a construction company, as had been alleged by a Japanese magazine.

The development will be seen as a significant blow for PM Shinzo Abe.

Akira Amari, who has been minister of state for economic and fiscal policy since late 2012, has been widely described as one of Shinzo Abe’s most trusted members of parliament.

As Japan’s lead negotiator for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, Akira Amari was expected to travel to New Zealand next week to sign the agreement.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

He was also regarded as the architect of Abenomics – Shinzo Abe’s plan to pull the world’s third largest economy out of deflation.

Akira Amari will be replaced by Nobuteru Ishihara, formerly the country’s environment minister.

A local magazine had reported last week that Akira Amari and his aides were given money and gifts worth some 12 million yen ($101,000) by a construction company in return for some favors linked to land ownership.

Akira Amari said he did receive money which he wanted declared as a political donation, however, he said some of it was mishandled by his staff.

Japan’s economy, which has been struggling with deflation for nearly two decades, avoided a technical recession in Q3 of 2015.

“Japan is finally emerging from deflation,” Akira Amari told the press conference, as reported by Reuters.

“We need to pass legislation through parliament for steps to beat deflation and create a strong economy as soon as possible.

“Anything that hampers this must be eliminated, and I’m no exception,” Reuters reported him as saying.

“I, therefore, would like to resign as minister to take responsibility [for what my aide has done],” he said, according to Reuters.

Akira Amari is the fourth member of Shinzo Abe’s cabinet to resign amid allegations of bribery, among other issues.

Pm Shinzo Abe has apologized for the latest resignation.

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President Barack Obama apologized to Japan after WikiLeaks claimed Washington had spied on Japanese politicians, a government spokesman said.

Barack Obama held a telephone conversation with Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe on August 26, spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, adding that the pair agreed to work together on global economic issues in the wake of a stock market meltdown sparked by fears over China.

“President Obama said he was very sorry… as the case caused a big debate in Japan,” Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference, without confirming the spying claims.

He added that PM Shinzo Abe reiterated his “serious concern” over the case.Barack Obama apolgizes to Shinzo Abe after spying claims

“Prime Minister Abe told [Barack Obama] that, if the Japanese people concerned were subject to these activities, it would risk jeopardizing trusting relations between allies,” Yoshihide Suga said.

In an earlier conversation with VP Joe Biden, Shinzo Abe voiced similar concerns if the spying claims were confirmed.

Last month, WikiLeaks said it had intercepts revealing years-long espionage by the US National Security Agency (NSA) on Japanese officials and major companies.

Tokyo’s response has been widely seen as muted compared to the anger expressed in France and Germany following similar NSA spying allegations.

Japan is one of Washington’s key allies in the Asia-Pacific region and they regularly consult on defense, economic and trade issues.

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Japan is marking 70 years since the end of World War Two with commemoration ceremonies across the country.

The Asian country has been criticized by South Korea and China, which accused it of failing to properly atone for its actions during the war.

At Tokyo’s memorial service, Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe and Emperor Akihito observed a minute’s silence.

Shinzo Abe had expressed “profound grief” on August 14 over Japan’s role in the war.

South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye said the Japanese premier’s remarks “left much to be desired”.

Speaking on August 15 at a ceremony in Seoul, Park Geun-hye called on Shinzo Abe to reiterate Japan’s apologies for abuses during its wartime occupations of neighboring countries.Japan WWII commemoration 2015

“History can never be covered up. History remains alive through its witnesses’ vivid testimony,” she said.

Japan’s surrender to the allies on August 15, 1945, freed the then-unified Korea from 35 years of occupation, leading Koreans to celebrate the date as Liberation Day.

President Park Geun-hye also called on Japan to resolve, “at the earliest possible date”, the issue of so-called “comfort women” – Asian women forced to work as s** slaves for the military during the war.

Shinzo Abe stopped short of issuing a fresh apology this year to victims of Japanese aggression, saying that future Japanese generations should not be “predestined to apologize” for their country’s wartime actions.

A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry said on August 15 that Japan should have made a “sincere apology to the people of victim countries … rather than being evasive on this major issue of principle”.

Speaking at the ceremony in Tokyo, PM Shinzo Abe said Japan’s war dead “sacrificed their life for the future and the prosperity of our homeland”.

“Their sacrifice was the foundation of today’s prosperity and we shall never forget their contribution. We always reflect the past and we hate the horror of the war,” he said.

Emperor Akihito also spoke at the ceremony in Tokyo, striking a more apologetic tone than Shinzo Abe with an expression of “deep remorse” for the nation’s wartime aggression.

Shinzo Abe did not visit Japan’s controversial Yasukuni war shrine this year, as he has in previous years, although there will be commemorations at the site.

Koichi Hagiuda, a member of parliament and aide to Shinzo Abe, visited the shrine with a cash offering on behalf of the prime minister.

“I paid respects to the souls of those who sacrificed their precious lives in the past war,” Koichi Hagiuda said.

The shrine has been criticized by China and South Korea because along with Japan’s war dead it honors leaders who were later convicted of war crimes.

As well as commemorations that seek to consign wartime atrocities to the past, there will be events that highlight ongoing tensions in the region.

Thousands of South Korean protesters are expected to hold an anti-Japanese rally on August 15. This past week a Korean protester set fire to himself outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

Meanwhile, in North Korea, clocks were set back 30 minutes on August 15 to so-called Pyongyang Time to remove the country from a shared time zone established under Japanese colonial rule.

PM Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition has won a new two-thirds majority in Japan’s parliamentary elections seen as a referendum on his economic policy.

Japanese media reported that Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) retained its House of Representatives majority.

The LDP will govern with the Buddhist-backed Komeito party after the parties won 325 seats out of 475.

Shinzo Abe called the snap vote to secure support for his “Abenomics” economic reforms.

The LDP had won 290 seats, with Komeito taking 35, public broadcaster NHK said.Shinzo Abe wins snap elections 2014

The main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, won 73 seats, an increase of 11, NHK said.

Shinzo Abe was elected in 2012 and has tried to revive the economy by raising public spending and printing money.

After an initial burst of growth, Japan slipped back into recession in the second half of this year, which many economists have blamed, at least in part, on an increase in sales tax, from 5% to 8% in April.

The tax increase was legislated by the previous government in 2012 to curb Japan’s huge public debt, which is the highest among developed nations.

Shinzo Abe says he called the election to get a mandate to delay a second increase in the tax to 10%, scheduled for 2015.

“My <<Abenomics>> policies are still only half-way done,” he said on Decemebr 14, adding that his government would not become “complacent”.

“I am aware that there are still a lot of people who are still not feeling the benefits. But it’s my duty to bring [benefits] to those very people, and I believe this election made that clear.”

Japan is the third-largest economy in the world, according to the World Bank, but it has struggled in recent years.

Voters were choosing who sits in the 475-seat lower house of Japan’s parliament, the Diet.

Reports said turnout at polling stations was low due to voter apathy and heavy snowfall in parts of the country. The government said turnout was at just 35%, two hours before polls closed.

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Japan is voting in a snap election called by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to boost support for his economic reforms.

Voters will be choosing who sits in the 475-seat lower house of Japan’s parliament, the Diet.

Recent surveys show Shinzo Abe’s coalition is likely to win a majority, even though his popularity has dipped.

He was elected in 2012 and has tried to revive the economy by raising public spending and printing money.

After an initial burst of growth, Japan slipped back into recession in the second half of this year.

Japan is the third-largest economy in the world, according to the World Bank, but it has struggled in recent years.

However, Shinzo Abe has insisted that his policies, known as “Abenomics”, can get Japan back on track.

“I promise to make Japan a country that can shine again at the centre of the world,” he said in a recent campaign speech.Japan snap elections 2014

He has vowed to help more Japanese women enter and remain in employment by tightening anti-discrimination laws and setting employment targets.

The prime minister has also promised to amend the law to allow the Japanese military to engage in collective self-defense alongside allies who are threatened.

Economists say an increase in sales tax from 5% to 8% in April knocked consumer spending and helped to halt growth.

The tax increase was legislated by the previous government in 2012 to curb Japan’s huge public debt, which is the highest among developed nations.

Shinzo Abe called the election to seek a mandate to delay a second increase in the tax to 10%, scheduled for 2015.

Several surveys in recent weeks have pointed to a win for Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

Observers say this is partly due to the lack of a real political alternative, with the opposition in disarray.

The Banri Kaieda-led opposition Democratic Party is expected to pick up a handful of seats, but not enough to affect the parliamentary balance.

A total of 1,191 candidates are competing for 475 seats.

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Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has dissolved the lower house of parliament in preparation for an early election.

Shinzo Abe is seeking a new mandate for economic reforms and is delaying an unpopular increase in sales tax.

However, opinion polls conducted by local media indicate low support for Shinzo Abe and that many people do not understand why he has called an election two years ahead of schedule.

Japanese voters will now head to the polls on December 14.

The dissolution of parliament was announced in the lower house by Speaker Bunmei Ibuki on Friday morning.

Japan’s legislature, known as the National Diet, comprises the upper House of Councillors and the lower House of Representatives.

Shinzo Abe is expected to hold a news conference later.

On November 20, he said he would use the election campaign to clarify his government’s growth strategy, reported national broadcaster NHK.

Japan's PM Shinzo Abe has dissolved the lower house of parliament in preparation for an early election

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has dissolved the lower house of parliament in preparation for an early election

A Kyodo News agency survey on November 21 found that about 63% of people did not understand Shinzo Abe’s reasons for going to the polls early.

A separate survey by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that only 39% supported Shinzo Abe.

Though his popularity has fallen, Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are still expected to win the election because of the weakness of the opposition.

Shinzo Abe has said he will resign if his coalition – which holds the majority in the lower house – fails to win a simple majority.

He launched an ambitious economic plan, informally known as “Abenomics”, two years ago when he became prime minister.

Though Japan’s GDP growth initially saw a lift, the economy continued to slide and Japan entered a technical recession after Q3 2014.

It was exacerbated by a rise in sales tax in April, from 5% to 8%.

The increases were aimed at curbing Japan’s public debt which is the highest among developed nations, but instead scared Japanese consumers off spending.

A second increase, to 10%, was set for October 2015 but Shinzo Abe has said that will be delayed by at least 18 months.

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Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has called snap election in December, two years ahead of schedule.

At a news briefing, Shinzo Abe said he would dissolve parliament on November 21 and was also delaying a planned but unpopular increase in sales tax.

The prime minister was elected in 2012 with an ambitious plan to revive the economy, but has struggled to do so.

Shinzo Abe’s popularity has fallen but he is expected to win the election, which will take place in mid-December.

“I will dissolve the lower house on 21 [November] ,” Shinzo Abe said.

His party, the Liberal Democrats, already has a majority in the lower house, but analysts said Shinzo Abe hoped to consolidate power over an opposition party which is in disarray.

Shinzo Abe’s popularity fell below 50%. In another year from now he may face a very tough battle to get re-elected.

An early election means he is almost certain to win another majority.

The rise in Japan’s sales tax was legislated by the previous government in 2012 to curb Japan’s huge public debt, which is the highest among developed nations.

The first rise – from 5% to 8% – took place in April.

Shinzo Abe’s government had hoped the increase would boost income but instead Japanese consumers stopped spending.

Figures released on November 17 showed Japan had fallen back into a technical recession.

The second increase, to 10%, was set for October 2015 but will now be delayed by at least 18 months.

An election does not need to be held until 2016.

Howevr, Shinzo Abe is looking for a secure mandate ahead of introducing unpopular policies that could see his popularity fall even further, correspondents say.

He has strongly advocated restarting Japan’s nuclear power generation plants, all of which were shut down amid public anger after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

Before the accident about 30% of Japan’s power was nuclear-generated, and the prime minister says the shutdown is damaging the economy because of expensive energy imports.

Shinzo Abe has also supported a reinterpretation of Japan’s constitution that would allow the use of force to act to defend allies, known as collective self-defense.

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Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest, unexpectedly shrank for the second consecutive quarter in Q3 2014, leaving the country in technical recession.

Gross domestic product (GDP) fell at an annualized 1.6% from July to September, compared with forecasts of a 2.1% rise.

That followed a revised 7.3% contraction in Q2, which was the biggest fall since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Economists said the weak economic data could delay a sales tax rise.

PM Shinzo Abe is widely expected to call a snap election to seek a mandate to delay an increase in the sales tax to 10%, scheduled for 2015.

The tax increase was legislated by the previous government in 2012 to curb Japan’s huge public debt, which is the highest among developed nations.

April saw the first phase of the sales tax increase, from 5% to 8%, which hit growth in the second quarter and still appears to be having an impact on the economy.

The economy shrank 0.4% in the third quarter from the quarter previous.

The data also showed that growth in private consumption, which accounts for about 60% of the economy, was much weaker than expected.

The next tax rise had already been put in question by already weak economic indicators.

Speculation had been growing that the Japanese prime minister would call an election next month to gain support just two years after his election.

Local media are now reporting that Shinzo Abe could announce the next election as early as Tuesday to be held on December 14.

The Japanese government’s chief spokesperson Yoshihide Suga said on November 17 that Shinzo Abe was expected to decide on various steps to take amid the “severe economic situation”.

While Shinzo Abe’s popularity has fallen since he took office in 2012, he is expected to win if an election were called, because the opposition remains divided.

In reaction to the negative economic data, the dollar went above 117 Japanese yen before settling back at 115.69.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index, meanwhile, closed down almost 3% to 16,973.80, marking its biggest one-day drop since August.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe have met for formal talks after more than two years of severe tension over a territorial dispute.

Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Beijing.

Their first meeting included a public handshake with little sign of warmth.

In a speech to APEC, President Barack Obama has meanwhile announced big changes to visa arrangements with China.

Multiple entry short-term visas for businessmen and tourists will be extended to 10 years – up from one year.

Those for students rise from one year to five.

Barack Obama also stressed the importance of ties between China and the US, saying “the US welcomes the rise of a prosperous, peaceful and stable China.”

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met for formal talks after more than two years of severe tension over a territorial dispute

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met for formal talks after more than two years of severe tension over a territorial dispute

His comments come amid underlying tension between the US and China over Beijing’s growing regional influence.

Relations between China and Japan have long been soured by a row over islands in the East China Sea.

The uninhabited but strategically important islands, known as Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan, are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.

Tokyo’s decision to purchase three of them from their private Japanese owner in September 2012 led to an escalation in a dispute that has rumbled quietly for years.

The Chinese and Japanese leaders interacted awkwardly as they posed for an unsmiling photo after their talks.

Shinzo Abe said the meeting – which came three days after the two sides agreed to work to prevent the territorial dispute from escalating – was “the first step for improving ties by returning to mutually beneficial relations based on common strategic interests”.

He also said they had agreed to start preparations to establish a maritime crisis mechanism.

There have been fears that a clash – accidental or otherwise – between Chinese and Japanese paramilitary vessels patrolling waters around the disputed islands could trigger a conflict.

Xi Jinping told Shinzo Abe that China hoped Japan would follow a path of peaceful development and adopt prudent military and security policies.

Relations have also been hampered by what China sees as Japan’s failure to adequately acknowledge its war-time conduct.

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Japan has decided to ease some of the sanctions it has imposed on North Korea amid ongoing talks on abducted nationals, PM Shinzo Abe has announced.

Shinzo Abe gave no details of the sanctions to be lifted but said it was “just a start” on a road to “complete resolution” of the issue.

Japanese nationals were kidnapped by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies in language and culture.

North Korea says it has returned all those still alive. Japan disputes this.

The issue is highly emotive in Japan and has been a major, long-running point of contention between the two nations, which do not have diplomatic ties. Shinzo Abe has made the issue one of his key priorities.

The two sides agreed in May to reopen dialogue and have since held additional rounds of talks, the latest earlier this week in Beijing.

Megumi Yokota was kidnapped by North Korean agents on her way home from school in 1977

Megumi Yokota was kidnapped by North Korean agents on her way home from school in 1977 (photo AP)

Kyodo news agency, citing a government source, said that North Korea had agreed a member of its powerful National Defense Commission would sit on a special panel to re-examine the abduction cases.

Shinzo Abe said that an “unprecedented framework” that could “make decisions at a national level” had been set up in North Korea to lead the new investigation, and so Japan was responding.

“In accordance with the principle of action to action, we will lift part of the measures taken by Japan,” he said.

Japan has imposed its own sanctions on the North, which are separate from those imposed by the UN over its nuclear and missile tests.

These include remittance and travel bans, as well as denying North Korean ships entry into Japanese ports.

The Mangyongbong-92 ferry used to run regularly between Niigata in Japan and North Korea’s Wonsan, and was seen as a key link for the North. It is not yet clear whether a resumption of services is one of the areas being discussed.

North Korea has admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese nationals. It allowed five to return to Japan in 2002 and later released their children, but says the other eight died.

The most high-profile of the eight said to have died is Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped by North Korean agents on her way home from school in 1977, when she was 13.

North Korea says she married a South Korean abductee and had a daughter before killing herself in 1994.

North Korea returned what it said were her remains in 2004 but DNA tests subsequently disputed that claim.

Japan also believes that several other of its nationals were abducted and wants more cases to be investigated.

It is not clear why North Korea has agreed to re-examine the issue now – and previous efforts at dialogue have ended in failure.

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Japan has announced its plans to cut the country’s corporate tax to below 30% in several stages starting 2015.

The move is part of PM Shinzo Abe’s plan to revive Japan’s economy, a pledge made when he took office in December 2012.

Japan’s corporate tax rate, at nearly 36% for large companies operating in the capital Tokyo, ranks among the highest in the industrialized world.

The latest move has been dubbed as Shinzo Abe’s “third arrow”.

The first two arrows launched last year and focused on using fiscal and monetary policies to turn the economy around.

Details in terms of how the tax cut will be implemented are yet to be revealed by the Prime Minister’s office.

Japan plans to cut the country's corporate tax to below 30 percent in several stages starting 2015

Japan plans to cut the country’s corporate tax to below 30 percent in several stages starting 2015

Shinzo Abe’s previous economic reform measures included working with the country’s central bank, the Bank of Japan to embark on an aggressive quantitative monetary easing policy, through monthly bond purchases.

That helped drive down the value of the Japanese yen against the US dollar, and helped to benefit Japanese exporting companies, such as the automakers.

The central bank has also set an inflation target of 2%, which it hopes to achieve in a few years’ time.

Japan had been battling deflation, or falling prices for nearly two decades. But that may be changing, as prices have been rising over the last several months.

That was helped by a raise in sales tax in April this year, to 8% from 5%.

That’s the first increase in the sales tax, in 17 years. And it will rise again to 10% in October 2015.

The gradual increases in the sales tax are aimed at covering rising social welfare costs linked to Japan’s ageing population.

Japan currently has one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

It also has the world’s highest ratio of elderly to young people, raising serious concerns about future economic growth.

Shinzo Abe also said he would end compulsory overtime payments for workers earning over 10 million yen a year and raise the proportion of female managers to 30% by 2020 from last year’s 7.5% rate.

However, economists warned it would be years before Japan benefitted from the planned changes.

“Various legislation must be enacted and it will take time for companies to begin to act. Therefore, it will be 10 to 20 years before the potential growth rate rises,” said Kenji Yumoto, vice chairman of the Japan Research Institute.

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Chinese army general Wang Guanzhonghas accused Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of having “provocative” speeches against China at an Asian security forum in Singapore.

He said Chuck Hagel and Shinzo Abe’s comments at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue summit were “unacceptable”.

Chuck Hagel had earlier said China was “destabilizing” the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, PM Shinzo Abe had vowed to give greater support to South-East Asian countries.

The forum, which brings together the US and South-East Asian countries, comes amid growing tensions between China, Vietnam and the Philippines, with Japan-China ties also strained over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

General Wang Guanzhonghas accused Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of having provocative speeches against China

General Wang Guanzhonghas accused Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of having provocative speeches against China

Apparently deviating from his prepared speech, Wang Guanzhong accused PM Shinzo Abe and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of coordinating and encouraging each other to attack China in their remarks.

He said it was “unimaginable” to receive such “unwanted criticisms against China”.

In a keynote address on Friday, Shinzo Abe outlined his vision for a more robust role in resolving territorial disputes in the region.

He also offered to provide coastal boats to neighboring countries wary of Beijing’s tactics.

Chinese officials responded at the time by saying Shinzo Abe was using the “myth” of a China threat to strengthen Japan’s security policy.

Chuck Hagel later weighed in, accusing China of threatening the region’s long-term progress by undertaking “destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea”.

He warned the US would “not look the other way” when nations ignored international rules.

Tensions have flared recently, with China declaring an air defense zone in the East China Sea and adopting a more confrontational stance over the disputed islands in the South China Sea, correspondents say.

They say that although some ASEAN members will be reluctant to antagonize China because of their economic and political ties, others are likely to welcome an increased role from Japan.

Beijing claims a U-shaped swathe of the South China Sea that covers areas other South-East Asian nations say are their territory.

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North Korea has agreed to reopen an investigation into the fate of Japanese nationals it abducted decades ago, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has said.

Shinzo Abe announced the move after days of talks between officials in Sweden.

Japan says North Korea abducted several of its citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies – including learning the Japanese language and behavior.

Tokyo said it would relax some sanctions against Pyongyang once the probe had been reopened.

North Korea has agreed to reopen an investigation into the fate of Japanese nationals it abducted decades ago

North Korea has agreed to reopen an investigation into the fate of Japanese nationals it abducted decades ago

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Japan would also consider providing humanitarian aid to North Korea, depending on how the investigation progressed.

He said that once it had recommenced, Tokyo would lift restrictions on travel, allow remittances to North Korea and lift an embargo on the entry to Japanese ports of North Korea-flagged ships with humanitarian missions.

Yoshihide Suga said that such a move would not be a contravention of UN sanctions against North Korea.

Shinzo Abe told a news conference that Japan’s “mission will never end until the day comes when families of all abduction victims are able to embrace their children with their own arms”.

“We have tackled the problem with this determination and we hope that this will be the first step toward an overall solution.”

North Korea has returned five of the abductees and says the rest are dead – but Japan does not believe this.

Shinzo Abe said that as a result of his talks, the North Korean side promised to make a “comprehensive and overall investigation” into Japanese abduction victims and missing people where the “possibility of being abducted cannot be ruled out”.

“In keeping with the promise, it will set up a special commission for the investigation,” he said.

North Korea has admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese nationals. It allowed five to return to Japan in 2002 and later released their children, but says the other eight died.

Japan says that eight men and nine women are officially recognized to have been abducted, but correspondents say there could be many more victims.

The most high profile of the eight who died is Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped by North Korean agents on her way home from school in 1977, when she was 13.

North Korea says she married a South Korean abductee and had a daughter before killing herself in 1994.

North Korea returned what it said were her remains in 2004 but DNA tests subsequently disputed that claim.

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After talks with PM Shinzo Abe, President Barack Obama has reaffirmed his support for Japan in its row over islands with China.

Barack Obama, who is on a four-nation Asia tour, warned against escalation in the dispute and said he wanted to see the row resolved peacefully.

He confirmed that the islands fell under a security treaty that commits the US to act if Japan is attacked.

Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe also discussed a major trade deal as well as North Korea.

The US president arrived in Japan late on Wednesday ahead of stops in South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

He is not going to Beijing but relations with China are expected to dominate his meetings with regional leaders.

After talks with PM Shinzo Abe, President Barack Obama has reaffirmed his support for Japan in its row over islands with China

After talks with PM Shinzo Abe, President Barack Obama has reaffirmed his support for Japan in its row over islands with China

Barack Obama’s trip – which ends on April 29 – comes nearly seven months after he cancelled a visit to the region because of a US government shutdown.

Officials say it is aimed at reassuring America’s Asian allies of its commitment to the region amid concern over China’s growing power.

On Wednesday Barack Obama had an informal dinner with Shinzo Abe. The two leaders then held talks on Thursday morning and gave a joint press conference.

“Article five [of the US-Japan security treaty] covers all territories under Japan’s administration including [the] Senkaku islands,” Barack Obama said, echoing comments published in Wednesday’s Yomiuri newspaper.

“We do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally.”

“This is not a new position. This is a consistent one,” he said.

However, Barack Obama also said he told Shinzo Abe that it “would be a profound mistake to continue to see escalation around this issue instead of dialogue”.

The islands are called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Japan controls the islands but China has been strongly pressing its claim in recent months, flying and sailing vessels in and out of what Japan says are its waters and airspace.

Japan depends on the US for its security, under a decades-old alliance that dates back to the end of World War Two. If Japan is attacked, the US is obliged to come to its aid.

China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it opposed the US stance.

“The so-called US-Japan alliance is a bilateral arrangement from the Cold War and ought not to harm China’s territorial sovereignty and reasonable rights,” spokesman Qin Gang said in Beijing.

Shinzo Abe and Barack Obama also discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a giant trade deal involving 12 nations.

It is currently stalled partly due to a row between the US and Japan over agricultural tariffs.

North Korea was also on the agenda. Barack Obama wants Tokyo and Seoul to work together on the issue, but ties between the two remain badly strained because of war-related historical issues.

Barack Obama flies to Seoul after Tokyo, amid reports of increased activity at Pyongyang’s nuclear test site – potentially suggesting a fourth nuclear test could be imminent.

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President Barack Obama arrives in Japan on Wednesday ahead of stops in three other Asian nations.

Barack Obama is not going to Beijing, but relations with China are expected to dominate his meetings with regional leaders.

The US president’s trip – April 23-29 – comes nearly seven months after he cancelled a visit to the region due to a government shutdown.

Stops include a private dinner with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, as well as bilateral meetings with the South Korean, Malaysian and Philippine leaders.

President Barack Obama arrives in Japan on Wednesday ahead of stops in three other Asian nations

President Barack Obama arrives in Japan on Wednesday ahead of stops in three other Asian nations

Ties between Tokyo and Beijing will be high on the agenda when Barack Obama touches down in Japan.

Relations are severely strained over a raft of issues, including East China Sea islands – called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China – that both claim.

Japan controls the islands but Chinese ships have sailed repeatedly in and out of what Japan says are its territorial waters as Beijing presses its claim. Last year, China declared an air defense identification zone over the islands, drawing widespread criticism.

Japan depends on the US for its security, under a decades-old alliance that dates back to the end of World War Two.

The US, however, is keen for Japan to take on greater responsibility for its own security – an area where Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe are likely to be in general agreement.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal which requires each country to strike an agreement with other prospective members.

A rift between Japan and the US over agriculture product tariffs has proven a major sticking point.

Barack Obama is also expected to have to balance bolstering US ties with each Asian ally with improving communication among them, particularly between South Korea and Japan.

The two Asian nations are at odds over a separate set of disputed islands, as well as historical issues linked to Japan’s war history.

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