Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe lay a wreath at the CTV site. Photo / Getty Images
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe lay a wreath at the CTV site. Photo / Getty Images

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has today paid tribute to the 28 Japanese citizens who died in the February 2011 Canterbury earthquake.

Mr Abe and his wife Akie arrived at the head of a 17-strong motorcade at the memorial site where the six-storey CTV Building stood in Christchurch before it came down in the violent February 22 tremor, which claimed 115 lives.

They were met by Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority boss Roger Sutton.

Mr and Mrs Abe laid a wreath at the cleared site, which is now a place of remembrance, before a respectful bow.

A crowd of around 50, mostly Japanese, shouted and waved from behind the security cordon. They were excited to shake hands with the world leader.

They then watched the couple cross Madras St for a short tour of the “cardboard” Transitional Cathedral – the temporary place of worship built after the landmark Christ Church Cathedral was badly damaged in the magnitude-6.3 shaking.

Of the 185 people killed in the quake, 115 perished in the CTV building.

In February, just after the third anniversary of the disaster, families of the Japanese CTV victims were given a private briefing by police and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment officials on progress of the police probe into the collapse.

After the cathedral visit, Mr Abe, the first Japanese prime minister to visit New Zealand since Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, was chauffeur-driven to the military terminal at Christchurch International Airport to fly to Australia.

Mr Abe left Auckland for Christchurch after talks with Prime Minister John Key at Government House about the TPP, rugby, whaling and new security moves by the Japanese Government.

At a press conference after their talks, Mr Abe and Mr Key agreed to differ over whaling with Mr Abe saying that “we have to make sure there is no impact on the bilateral relationship.”

Japan is allowed to undertake whaling for scientific purposes but the International Court of Justice ruled in March ruled that the Government-sponsored whaling being conducted in the Southern Ocean was not scientific.

Asked if a resumption of any whaling would break the spirit of the ICJ ruling, Mr Abe said Japan was a country that abided by he rule of law and that it would abide by the verdict of the ICJ.

Mr Key told New Zealand reporters later Japan was exploring whether it would continue to have a scientific whaling programme that met the criteria of the ICJ.

The pair talked about the Trans Pacific Partnership with both leaders saying the agreement needed to be “comprehensive and high quality.” But there was no suggestion that Mr Abe’s definition of “comprehensive” is the same as New Zealand’s, which is the eventual elimination of all tariffs and quotas.

Mr Abe said through an interpreter that the entry of Japan into the talks just over a year had enhanced the strategic importance of TPP given that it was the world’s third largest economy.

Questioned by Japanese media, Mr Key said New Zealand had been excited by Japan coming into the TPP.

“I think we do need to strive for a high quality agreement that sees the total elimination of tariffs and quotas over time.”

New Zealand could be patient and realistic about that timeframe.

He said he did not believe New Zealand would be a threat to Japanese agriculture and he said that given it would be an agreement hat other countries would join in the future.

“So whatever the 12 leaders agree in the months ahead, [it] is likely to be about the best the deal will ever be, so it is important we are ambitious.”

Mr Key told New Zealand reporters later that Mr Abe “understands completely both New Zealand’s position, what is likely to be acceptable to the United States and what is required to get a successful deal completed.”

“President Obama is very unlikely to get support for TPP in the United States unless it is a high-quality deal because in the end because in the end he has to rely on the Republicans to vote for it.”

High on the agenda of the talks was the controversial decision last week of Japan’s cabinet that will allow Japanese forces to help to defend its allies on conflict, a significant move away from its Pacifist constitution which provides only for Japan to defend itself in its own territory, to a principle now known as “collective self-defence.”

The move has been made in the wake of ongoing tensions in the East China Sea between China and Japan and in the South China Sea with several countries.

Mr Abe’s interpreter said that Mr Key had “expressed support” for the stand of Japan to take a more “proactive contribution to peace based on the principle of international co-operation.” Later he said Mr Key showed “an understanding” of the policy.

Mr Key said at the press conference that he expected the rule of law and the law of the sea to be followed and encourage all parties to “look for a diplomatic solution” and that peace and security should be paramount.

Mr Key told New Zealand reporters later that Mr Abe didn’t seek backing for the decision the Japanese cabinet has made “but he certainly was fulsome in his explanation of what Japan was doing, why the cabinet had made that decision in relation to its military capability and thirdly that this was an issue that would be brought to the Diet in new legislation they would implementing.”

Mr Abe and his party were welcomed to Government House in Auckland with a Maori powhiri and a New Zealand Navy guard of honour.

The two Prime Ministers joined their wives at the Villa Maria winery in Mangere where the visiting Japanese Iwami Chisuikan High School girls’ sevens rugby team had a brief demonstration.

The team is in New Zealand for a month to take part in a pilot programme run by Education New Zealand called Game On English which combines sports training at the Auckland Rugby Academy and intensive English language lessons.

NZ Herald