HELSINKI (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday pledged to increase cooperation with Finland in Arctic issues and on furthering Russian relations, after talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.
Abe noted that Finland is currently chairing the Arctic Council and said his country would increase its role in the agency by "positively contributing more than in the past to (its) activities."
"We will be enhancing our cooperation in the area of the environment regarding the Arctic regions," Abe said in prepared statements by the two leaders.
Niinisto told the Finnish media later Monday that the Arctic is facing increasing "pressures" for commercial use from various countries including Japan, which has observer status at the eight-member Arctic Council.
"They (Japanese) are particularly interested in the Northeast Passage," Niinisto said, referring to the Arctic shipping route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
After discussing bilateral relations, international issues and economic cooperation, the two countries signed several agreements, including on developing environmental cooperation.
Abe noted that Japanese tourists are increasingly flocking to Finland — something he attributed partly to Japanese children's affinity to the "Moomins," the popular Finnish book and comic strip characters and Santa Claus, who is known in Japan to live in Finnish Lapland.
He congratulated Finland on this year's 100th anniversary of independence from Russia, with which it shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border, noting that Russia is "an important neighbor for both of our nations.
"We reaffirmed our close collaboration in our relationship with Russia," he said without elaborating the content of his talks with Niinisto.
Before arriving in Finland, Abe met with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in Stockholm, where the two leaders demanded that North Korea halt missile tests, and pledged increased cooperation in the U.N. Security Council. They also agreed to combat terrorism together.
Abe continues his Nordic tour later Monday to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he will hold talks with Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen.