French President Francois Hollande sought reassure Japanese business leaders on Saturday that the eurozone debt crisis is over, but acknowledged that steps to boost the region's growth and competitiveness need to be taken.
In a speech on the final day of his visit to Japan, Hollande said that the potentially destructive debt crisis has served to "reinforce" Europe and foster greater integration of the 17 member economies that use the euro currency.
He said authorities are developing tools to ensure greater stability and solidarity such as a Europe-wide "banking union" and budgetary rules.
"What you need to understand here in Japan is that the crisis in Europe is over. And that we can work together, France and Japan, to open new doors for economic progress," he said in the speech at the Imperial Hotel organized by The Nikkei, a major financial newspaper.
Although the eurozone debt crisis that erupted at the end of 2009 has eased, the region's collective economy has shrunk for six straight quarters and unemployment has reached 12.2 percent, the highest since the euro was introduced in 1999.
Hollande said Europe needs to put more emphasis on taking steps to promote growth and competitiveness "so that we can have a better presence in the world."
He also highlighted his proposal to create a common economic government for the eurozone that would set economic policy.
Hollande called Japan an "exceptional partner" and urged both countries to invest more in each other. France's annual exports to Japan total about 7.5 billion euros (£6.3 billion), while its imports are just over 9 billion euros. Both rank 11th as respective trade partners.
In response to a question about China, Hollande said that while France does have trade disputes with China — and a yawning trade deficit of 25 billion euros — Paris needs to "work with" Beijing and shouldn't be expected to choose between Japan and China as they were both important regional economic powers.
Japan has expressed concern over French exports to China of equipment that potentially might have military uses, including the sale last year of equipment used to help helicopters land on ships. Providing China with such a capability alarms Tokyo given its tensions with Beijing over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Hollande repeated France's insistence that the helicopters were not for military use.
"We have the will to work with Asia, and not to oppose any particular country," he said. "We have a friendly relationship with China for a long time now, and a relationship of exceptional partnership with Japan," he said. "Please do not ask us to choose."
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