Japan’s prime minister Friday landed in Estonia, his first stop on a tour of the Baltic states and other European nations as he seeks to drum up support for his hawkish stance on North Korea.
Despite a recent cooling of tensions in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, Shinzo Abe has insisted on “maximizing pressure” on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.
In the Estonian capital Tallinn, Abe met with President Kersti Kaljulaid and Prime Minister Juri Ratas and discussed bilateral cooperation on cybersecurity, a topic that digital-savvy Estonia has championed since being hit by one of the first major cyberattacks a decade ago.
Abe will then visit fellow Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania, before continuing on to Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. He is the first sitting Japanese leader to visit these countries.
Abe told reporters that he and Ratas had “agreed that we would not accept nuclear armament of North Korea, and that it was necessary to maximize pressure on North Korea.”
The leaders also said their countries would start working together on cyberdefense, and a Japanese spokesperson later said Tokyo would cooperate with NATO countries including Estonia on cybersecurity.
“Estonia and Japan are separated by thousands of kilometers, but tightly connected by a digital umbilical cord,” Ratas said, adding that “Japan will soon become a contributing participant with regard to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence, which is located in Tallinn.”
Tokyo and NATO
Japan’s foreign ministry press secretary Norio Maruyama told reporters in Tallinn that “step by step we understand which way NATO can be a useful entity for Japan and in which area can Japan be useful for NATO.”
Maruyama added that given the threats posed by cyberterrorism “we need to have closer coordination among the countries that share the same values.
“I think that the NATO center provides us with a kind of information and a way we can cooperate together,” he added.
Representatives from more than 30 companies would accompany Abe to develop business ties in the region.
Japan is keen to raise its profile in the region as China bolsters its ties there.
All six nations Abe is visiting are among the 16 Central and Eastern European countries that hold an annual summit meeting with China.
China has been pushing its massive $1 trillion “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which seeks to build rail, maritime and road links from Asia to Europe and Africa in a revival of ancient Silk Road trading routes.
Abe is scheduled to return to Japan on Wednesday.