IWAKI, Japan(Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Saturday to support Pacific island countries in enhancing their maritime security capabilities, given their vulnerable coastal security.
"Japan will be unstinting in its assistance toward improving countries' capacity to 'protect the sea,' including each country's legal enforcement capabilities," Abe said in a keynote speech at the outset of the eighth Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan.
"It is the rule of law that gives protection to the nations, big and small, for their inherent rights," he said.
In cooperation with these Pacific island countries, Japan aims to keep close tabs on North Korea, which is seen as dodging evading international sanctions by transferring cargoes at sea.
Abe also called for building a rule-based maritime order in the region. The Japanese leader has promoted his "free and open Indo-Pacific strategy" in an apparent effort to counter the growing maritime assertiveness of China.
"Safeguarding the sea and safeguarding the planet and humankind are one and the same. My country will continue to make efforts with you all," he added.
On North Korea, Japan is hoping the participants confirm the need to continue implementing U.N. Security Council-imposed economic sanctions against Pyongyang.
Abe and leaders from the Pacific island countries are expected to adopt a joint statement on their cooperation in dealing with North Korea.
The summit also focused on building infrastructure, including ports.
To support their sustainable development, Abe promised continued assistance to the island nations to protect the environment and cope with climate change.
Abe also vowed Japan's engagement in human resource development and people-to-people exchanges involving 4,000 people over the next three years.
The forum brings together Japan, 14 Pacific island nations, Australia and New Zealand, as well as French Polynesia and New Caledonia, both of which are French territories.
The 14 Pacific island countries are the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Japan has hosted a regional summit with the Pacific island nations every three years since 1997. The previous meeting also took place in Iwaki, an area in northeastern Japan devastated by the massive 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi is co-chairing the meeting with Abe.