ROME/, BRATISLAVA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has moved on to the second and third legs of his six-nation European and North American tour with stops in Italy and Slovakia, where he met with the leaders of those two countries and others on Wednesday.
In Rome, Abe and his Italian counterpart, Giuseppe Conte, agreed early in the day on the need for high quality infrastructure that can achieve both economic growth and fiscal sustainability, as Italy plans to promote projects under China’s “Belt and Road” initiative.
The two leaders, also agreed during their summit that the two countries will strengthen defense cooperation under an accord that took effect earlier this month, enabling the sharing of defense equipment and technology.
Japan and Italy have been boosting bilateral ties, especially in the field of security, at a time when China is seeking to expand its influence both in Europe and Asia.
The summit came after the signing of a China-Italy memorandum on infrastructure in March made Rome the first member of the Group of Seven industrialized nations to officially endorse the “Belt and Road” plan.
The development raised concern among the group, and within the European Union, about Beijing’s future grip on key infrastructure for transportation such as ports. Critics say some developing countries are suffering from a heavy debt burden due to what they term as China’s excessive lending.
During the talks, Abe explained Japan’s position that infrastructure projects should ensure fiscal sustainability and transparency among other criteria Tokyo sees as important, according to a Japanese official.
As Japan seeks to create a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region based on the rules-based order, Conte expressed support for the initiative, the official added.
The visit to Rome, the second leg of Abe’s tour, was intended to coordinate bilateral efforts before Japan hosts the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in June.
Abe and Conte agreed to jointly promote free trade and address global agendas such as climate change.
On North Korea, the Japanese and Italian leaders shared the view that closer coordination is needed until Pyongyang abandons all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way.
“We need to maintain pressure on Pyongyang,” Conte said at a joint press briefing with Abe.
Abe also met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
Later in the day, Abe traveled to Bratislava, becoming the first Japanese prime minister to visit the country, where he was to meet the leaders of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
In a meeting in the Slovak capital, Abe and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki agreed to promote free trade after a market-opening deal between Japan and the European Union took effect recently.
During the talks, Abe and Morawiecki shared the view that North Korea must respect U.N. Security Council resolutions on the country’s nuclear development, Japanese officials said.
Abe also sought Poland’s cooperation in helping resolve the issue of Pyongyang’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, a request Morawiecki accepted.