TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will look to strengthen the Japanese partnership with digitally advanced Estonia in areas such as cyberdefense during a six-nation European tour starting Friday.
The Baltic state will be the first stop, followed by Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. Abe will be the first Japanese prime minister to visit these former Eastern Bloc countries. The tour will bring to a record 76 the number of countries and regions he has visited during his second stint in office, begun in 2012.
Estonia boasts advanced information technology expertise, having worked to strengthen its digital defenses after suffering large-scale cyberattacks in 2007. NATO maintains a cyberdefense base there today. And Japan, increasingly worried about digital threats from the likes of North Korea and China, is turning to the Baltic state for cooperation in fears of massive harm should such critical infrastructure as nuclear power plants be targeted.
Japan also hopes to share in Estonia's knowledge of e-voting, which the European country has made a reality and is being eyed by the government here.
Another goal is advancing public-private linkups in the cyber realm. Representatives from about 20 Japanese companies, including e-tailing powerhouse Rakuten and a number of internet security specialty companies, will also travel to Estonia with Abe in search of new business opportunities.
In Latvia, a Baltic nation that has imposed its own economic sanctions on North Korea, leaders are expected to reach agreement to step up pressure on the state together.
Bulgaria has just assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union. Japan will likely seek confirmation there that the economic partnership agreement reached with the EU last year will be put into force quickly.
Romania and its inexpensive labor have caught the eye of a number of Japanese businesses envisioning new manufacturing bases. During Abe's visit, leaders will likely confirm their aim to promote inroads by corporate Japan there.
Abe has described his approach to diplomacy, seeking partnership with countries that share values such as democracy and the rule of law, as taking a bird's-eye view of the globe. He works to engage more with small and medium-sized countries with which Japan has not conducted much top-level diplomacy before.
The goal is to make use of the strengths of long-term government and expand the frontiers of Japanese diplomacy, as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga puts it. Tokyo intends to win widespread acceptance for key policies, such as those regarding North Korea and the EU trade deal.