TALLINN – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday after a meeting with Estonian counterpart Juri Ratas in Tallinn that the two countries will cooperate on cybersecurity, allowing Tokyo to take advantage of the Baltic nation’s expertise in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics.
Abe also expressed his desire to strengthen economic ties with Estonia, which has proved very successful in integrating digital technology across all aspects of its citizens’ lives.
“Many Japanese companies have a strong interest in doing business in Estonia. I hope to further enhance favorable trade and investment relations,” Abe said at a news conference in the capital, the first stop of his six-nation European tour.
The two leaders also discussed strengthening relations between Japan and other Baltic states, including Latvia and Lithuania, Japanese officials said. The four countries will aim to hold the first round of dialogue later in 2018 or early 2019.
Abe is the first sitting Japanese prime minister to travel to Estonia. He planned to visit during his European tour in July last year but was forced to cut his trip short when heavy rains caused deadly floods in Kyushu.
Abe and Ratas also agreed on the need to “exert maximum pressure” on North Korea to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, Abe said. Abe regularly calls for a tough approach to Kim Jong Un’s regime in talks with foreign leaders.
Abe’s tour will also take him to Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania.
Japan is seeking to strengthen economic ties with nations in Europe after finalizing negotiations with the European Union late last year on a free trade deal to create one of the biggest economic zones in the world. They aim to put the deal into force in early 2019.
Serbia is in talks to join the 28-member bloc, while the remaining five countries covered in Abe’s trip are already EU members.
Representatives of 31 Japanese trading, auto parts, logistics and other companies are accompanying Abe with the aim of tapping the stable economic growth and relatively cheap labor in the Baltic and in Southeast Europe, according to Foreign Ministry officials.
On security, Abe will seek cooperation in raising pressure on North Korea through the fresh U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, they said.
“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.”
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.
Abe will travel to Latvia on Saturday to meet Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis and then visit Lithuania.
On Sunday, Abe is expected to travel to Bulgaria and discuss cooperation toward the implementation of the Japan-EU free trade pact as Sofia holds the EU’s rotating presidency for the first half of 2018.
Abe is then scheduled to visit Serbia and Romania, before returning home on Wednesday.
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.