Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left Tuesday for a five-day European tour that will take him to Spain, France and Belgium, during which he will attend a biennial conference and hold talks with world leaders.
Referring to the Asia-Europe meeting starting Thursday in Brussels, Abe said that on "the urgent challenge of North Korea" he would explain Japan's position and "confirm close cooperation" with world leaders to resolve the issues of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and past abductions of Japanese nationals.
He also told reporters ahead of his departure that he will underline the importance of a "free, fair and ruled-base economic order," with Japan and the European Union having signed a free trade agreement amid concerns about spreading protectionism.
In Spain, the first leg of his five-day trip, Abe will meet with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who assumed the post in June, and King Felipe VI, respectively, on Tuesday as this year marks the 150th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral ties.
On Wednesday in France, Abe will hold talks with President Emmanuel Macron, with maritime security cooperation expected to be high on the agenda.
On Thursday, Abe will move to Brussels to take part in the two-day ASEM summit. The biennial gathering, held alternatively in Asia and Europe, will bring together 53 participants, including leaders from 30 European countries and 21 Asian nations, as well as the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretariat.
The leaders are expected to take up a wide variety of issues, such as climate change, ocean plastic pollution, women's empowerment and cybersecurity.
Abe is seeking to send a strong message on North Korea's denuclearization as well as maritime security, amid China's increasing assertiveness in the South and East China seas, Japanese officials said.
During his stay in Belgium's capital, he will likely hold talks with some participating leaders, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Italian President Giuseppe Conte, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.