Brussels: The European Union and Japan stressed Wednesday their common ground on global security issues, highlighted by the Ukraine crisis, promising to step up cooperation and seal a massive free trade deal.
EU president Herman Van Rompuy said talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed both sides to be "like-minded", notably on Ukraine where both men urged Russia to reverse course or face further sanctions.
The two sides rejected Russia`s illegal annexation of Crimea and called on Moscow to "refrain from further steps" to escalate the crisis, Van Rompuy told a press conference.
Abe`s visit to Brussels, topping a nine-day six country trip to Europe, "demonstrates how much value Japan attaches to our relationship," Van Rompuy said, flanked by European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso.
A Strategic Partnership Agreement being negotiated will "enhance the security partnership," with Japan participating in EU crisis management operations and its efforts to counter terrorism and piracy.
Van Rompuy said talks on a free trade deal, however, were at a critical phase as the EU reviewed their progress amid concerns European companies, especially automakers, may not get adequate access to the Japanese market.
Barroso said he hoped and expected the review would give the all-clear and the talks could be speeded up, with Abe hoping for a conclusion in 2015.
Some concerns "are only normal," Barroso said, adding: "I am really confident of making a great success of this agreement."
For his part, Abe highlighted Japan`s increased global engagement, enshrined in his "proactive contribution to peace" policy.
The EU and Japan were "responding to global issues together," Abe said through an interpreter, adding that they "shared a common approach based on international cooperation."
Abe alluded to Japan`s concerns at the rising power of China and the many territorial disputes roiling relations with its giant neighbour and across Asia, stressing that they needed to be resolved peacefully.
Van Rompuy, asked about such disputes, said Brussels hoped all sides would stick to that line.