Japan PM Beefs Up European Ties Amid N. Korea Tensions

Abe will visit Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, before continuing on to Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania, becoming the first sitting Japanese leader to visit these countries
Shinzo AbeShinzo Abe

Japan's prime minister on 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, AFP reported.

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 cyberdefence 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 centre 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 due to return to Japan on Wednesday.

***More Work Among Allies

Meanwhile, a former Japanese defense official told Reuters that The United States, South Korea and Japan must coordinate more closely on North Korea, with whom they are engaged in a “pre-negotiation bargaining process”

The United States and its regional allies have taken a “coercive military option” by using B-1B bombers, stealth fighters, and aircraft carriers, Narushige Michishita, professor at Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies said in an interview at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP).

“We are kind of testing North Korea’s ability to respond ... We are collecting information as to the intentions and capabilities of North Korea armed forces,” he told Reuters.

“By conducting different military actions, one of the objectives that the US might have is to drive a wedge between political leaders and military leaders inside North Korea,” he added.

North Korea has made no secret of its plans to develop a missile capable of hitting the US mainland and has fired two missiles over Japan, putting Tokyo in range.

However, Michishita said he did not expect US President Donald Trump to undertake a preventive strike.

“In order to destroy an important part of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, you have to really undertake a major war against North Korea. Almost conventional, but a major war,” Michishita said.

Any attack would need to destroy North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs as well as conventional weapons such as long-range artillery and rocket launchers aimed at Seoul, he said.

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