• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sanchez, agreed Tuesday to boost their countries’ economic and security cooperation as the two nations mark the 150th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties this year.

During their summit talks in Madrid, Abe said the two countries “will closely work together to deal with a wide variety of challenges the international community faces, in addition to bilateral cooperation.”

Spain is the first stop on Abe’s European tour, which will also take him to France for a bilateral summit and Brussels for the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting starting Thursday.

Amid an escalating trade war between the United States and China, the two leaders promised to promote a free and open trade system, reaffirming their “commitment to fighting protectionism, including all unfair trade practices,” according to a joint statement released after the talks

They welcomed the signing of a free trade agreement between Japan and the 28-member European Union, to which Spain belongs, and vowed to make efforts for its early entry into force.

“Japan and the European Union demonstrated their unshakable political will as flag bearers of free trade,” Abe said of the July signing of the trade pact during his first meeting with Sanchez, who took office in June.

With regards to security cooperation, the two leaders confirmed that Japan and Spain will maintain U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions on North Korea imposed in response to the country’s nuclear and missile programs.

They vowed to seek the “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement” of all Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction and all ballistic missiles, according to the statement.

They also shared the need for the “immediate resolution” of the past abductions of Japanese nationals by the North, which Abe has made one of his top priorities.

On maritime security, Abe and Sanchez emphasized the importance of international order based on the rule of law and expressed their “serious concern over and strong opposition to any unilateral actions that increase tensions or change the status quo by use of force or coercion,” alluding to China’s maritime assertiveness.

Tokyo has been at odds with Beijing over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, known as the Diaoyu islands in China, and has been concerned about overlapping claims in the South China Sea between China and some Southeast Asian nations.

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