National / Politics

Japan announces three-way pact with Baltic countries as Abe tours Eastern Europe

AP, AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Saturday that Japan has entered a pact with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to boost economic and political ties with the three former Soviet republics.

Abe and Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis said after meeting in Riga, Latvia’s capital, that information technology, transportation and medicine are areas where Japan sees the most trade potential in the Baltic countries.

Abe praised the cargo harbor in Riga as “a successful center of transportation and logistics” that will allow Asian suppliers to deliver goods to the region.

The four-way Japan-Baltics trade pact is likely to yield benefits for Tokyo only once a larger partnership deal between the European Union and Japan has been ratified.

Kucinskis and Abe, who was accompanied by a sizable business delegation, both urged the rapid ratification of the EU-Japan trade deal reached in December.

“I am glad that economic partnership treaty negotiations between Japan and the European Union have been concluded,” Abe said, referring to the free trade agreement that will open EU markets such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania to Japanese companies and vice versa.

Abe is on the second leg of a whirlwind six-nation European tour that started in Estonia on Friday. After talks in Latvia on Saturday, he quickly proceeded to Lithuania, where he was to stay overnight before proceeding with visits to Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania.

He is the first sitting Japanese prime minister to ever visit the six countries.

Abe arrived in Lithuania Saturday afternoon to meet with President Dalia Grybauskaite and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, and to honor a late Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who was based in Lithuania during World War II. The former vice consul to the consulate in Kaunas is credited with helping save about 6,000 European Jews from the Holocaust by issuing them travel visas.

Abe and Skvernelis praised Sugihara for his humanitarian efforts, according to Japanese officials who briefed reporters.

Abe said he discussed with Lithuanian leaders closer cooperation between the Baltic states and Japan in the areas of defense, economics and cybersecurity. He also thanked Lithuania for its support amid the tension over North Korea’s missile tests.

“We should work closely together to maintain and strengthen a rule of law-based international order on North Korea, which is now a threat to the global community,” Abe told reporters in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius.

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 the North.

Skvernelis, voiced support as did Kucinskis.

Briefing reporters, Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Norio Maruyama said that although the threat posed by Pyongyang was “unprecedented,” the full implementation of U.N. sanctions would have “a very strong effect on North Korea.”

New U.N. sanctions passed against North Korea last month ban the supply of nearly 75 percent of refined oil products to Pyongyang and cap crude deliveries among other measures.

Japan is keen to raise its profile in Eastern Europe as China bolsters its ties there.

China is 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.

He is set to visit Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania before returning to Japan on Wednesday.