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Japan, EU agree to step up defense, economic ties, show concern about South China Sea tension

  • European Council President Donald Tusk, left, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wait for the arrival of Abe's Cabinet members for a group photo session prior to their meeting at Abe's official residence in Tokyo Friday, May 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, Pool)

    European Council President Donald Tusk, left, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wait for the arrival of Abe's Cabinet members for a group photo session prior to their meeting at Abe's official residence in Tokyo Friday, May 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, Pool)  (The Associated Press)

  • European Council President Donald Tusk, left, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, shake hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prior to their meeting at Abe's official residence in Tokyo Friday, May 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, Pool)

    European Council President Donald Tusk, left, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, shake hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prior to their meeting at Abe's official residence in Tokyo Friday, May 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, Pool)  (The Associated Press)

  • Japan' Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, reaches out to shake hands with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, as European Council President Donald Tusk smiles at the end of a joint news conference following a Japan-EU summit meeting in Tokyo Friday, May 29, 2015.  (Thomas Peter/Pool Photo via AP)

    Japan' Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, reaches out to shake hands with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, as European Council President Donald Tusk smiles at the end of a joint news conference following a Japan-EU summit meeting in Tokyo Friday, May 29, 2015. (Thomas Peter/Pool Photo via AP)  (The Associated Press)

Japanese and European leaders have agreed to step up defense and economic ties, while expressing concern about rising tensions in the South China Sea.

European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker welcomed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to allow Japan's military a greater international role.

The three leaders expressed concern about rising territorial tensions in the South China and East China seas, and stressed the importance of the rule of law and peaceful solutions to maritime disputes.

The two sides also agreed to play a leading role in the global effort to fight climate change, and expressed hope that they can conclude a free trade agreement as early as the end of this year.