Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will fly to Japan late Saturday night for a four-day visit expected to focus as much on increasing economic cooperation, as on high-profile diplomatic issues.
This will be the first visit there by an Israeli prime minister since Ehud Olmert traveled to Tokyo in February 2008. Netanyahu visited Japan during his first term as prime minister in the late 1990s.
Netanyahu will meet with the top Japanese leadership, including the emperor and empress of Japan, as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In addition to his meetings in Tokyo, he will also fly to Kyoto.
One diplomatic source said the focus of the trip is to expand and enhance bilateral relations and enhance government to government dialogue on diplomatic and political issues, but also to enhance the two countries’ economic cooperation.
According to government officials, Israel’s trade level with an economy as large as Japan’s are far from what they should be. Last year, Israel’s exports to Japan stood at some $1.1 billion to Japan, and its imports at $1.5b. Trade with Israel accounts for only 0.2% of Japan’s overall trade.
“The economic potential is much greater, and we are hoping this will be a starting point for new momentum in the relationship,” the official said. “Both countries have so much to gain by expanding bilateral ties.”
On the diplomatic front, Iran and the stalled diplomatic process with the Palestinians will be on the agenda.
The Japanese are concerned about North Korea, and Netanyahu is expected to talk about the danger to both Israel and Japan from “rogue states” such as North Korea and Iran.
The visit comes amid Israeli efforts to deepen economic and political ties with Asian and Latin American countries. Asia is expected to replace the US as Israel’s second largest export destination this year, behind the EU.
Japan is one of Israel’s oldest friends in Asia, and in 2012 the two countries celebrated 60 years of diplomatic ties. Netanyahu will be accompanied on the trip by his wife and two sons.
The visit comes a year after he visited China, a trip that gave a significant boost to Israeli-Chinese economic ties.