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Japan, New Zealand continue cooperation on maritime security

WELLINGTON (Kyodo) — Japan and New Zealand agreed Monday to continue to cooperate on regional security issues, particularly through maritime surveillance of illegal North Korean ship-to-ship transfers.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono, together with his New Zealand counterpart Winston Peters, said the two countries reaffirmed their cooperation to achieve the concrete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, during their talks in the New Zealand capital of Wellington.

New Zealand and Australia said in September they were deploying patrol planes to Japan to assist with efforts to monitor illegal ship-to-ship transfers of goods by North Korean vessels.

Such transfers, which include refined petroleum, are used by Pyongyang to evade U.N. sanctions imposed on the country following a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

“Defending against ship-to-ship transfers from North Korea is vital to the enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Kono said at a joint press conference following the foreign ministers’ talks. He also thanked New Zealand for its continued support on the matter.

Peters, who also serves as New Zealand’s deputy prime minister, said Wellington will also continue to cooperate with Japan on the issue of Chinese militarization of the South China Sea to ensure peace and stability in “our part of the world.”

The ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to improving coordination of their nations’ respective development programs in Pacific island nations, with a New Zealand researcher to be sent to the Japanese-funded new Pacific Climate Change Center, scheduled to open in Samoa in August 2019.

Earlier Monday, Kono also met with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and expressed Japan’s desire to deepen ties with New Zealand, which the two governments call a “strategic cooperative partnership,” according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Kono and Ardern agreed to work together so that a free trade agreement among Japan, New Zealand and nine other countries will enter into force as soon as possible, the ministry said.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was signed in March after the United States abruptly withdrew from it early last year.

Kono also met with New Zealand Defense Minister Ron Mark the same day.

Monday’s meeting marked the first visit by a Japanese foreign minister to New Zealand in about five years, and Kono’s first visit in over a decade.

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