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.