Updated: 07/10/2014 17:52 | By Agence France-Presse

Gas exports, aid takes centre-stage as Abe visits PNG

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Papua New Guinea Thursday and pledged to continue financial support for the Pacific nation, which is emerging as an important energy source for his country.

Gas exports, aid takes centre-stage as Abe visits PNG

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a tour of Rio Tinto's West Angelas iron ore mine in Pilbara, Western Australia on July 9, 2014 - by Alan Porritt

Abe, who flew in from Western Australia after visiting the resources-rich Pilbara region, said PNG's supply of liquefied natural gas "contributes positively to Japan's energy security as it helps diversify supply sources".

"Japan depends heavily on the supply of energy from other countries," he told the Post-Courier newspaper ahead of the two-day visit.

"Therefore, the government of Japan regards the LNG development project as one of the priority areas of our bilateral cooperation."

The visit -- the first by a Japanese prime minister since 1985 -- follows the inaugural shipment last month of LNG to energy-hungry Japan from a US$19 billion project in PNG.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, who travelled to Tokyo in June to welcome the shipment, said last month the project would support his nation's economic and social development.

The landmark development is the largest ever undertaken in the Pacific country and is expected to produce an expected nine trillion cubic feet (255 billion cubic metres) of LNG over its 30-year life.

However, critics say the project is environmentally devastating and has inflicted human rights abuses on villagers affected.

They also query whether the PNG government, which ranks poorly in international corruption rankings, will spend the revenues wisely.

Abe added that Japan, which he said had already given PNG economic assistance of 150 billion yen ($1.48 billion) over the past four decades, was committed to offering further development assistance to the impoverished nation.

"I would like to express my willingness to support the further development of Papua New Guinea in the future," he said as he praised the country's social and economic progress since he was last in PNG 30 years ago.

"I also would like to express Japan's determination to even more actively contribute to ensuring peace, stability and prosperity in the international community including the Pacific regions, together with the people and the Government of Papua New Guinea."

His trip is longer than the one-day visit made to New Zealand earlier this week and underscores Japan's continued dependence on energy imports as it grapples with the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident, which was caused by a huge earthquake and the resulting tsunami in March 2011.

All of Japan's viable reactors were shut down amid safety concerns following the triple meltdowns at Fukushima.

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