Japan's Abe seeks Baltic support against North Korea

Shinzo Abe will be the first Japanese leader to visit that region of Eastern Europe

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday urged Baltic NATO states to support pressure on North Korea, as he hammered home his hawkish message that Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes pose a global threat.

Despite a recent cooling of tensions in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, Shinzo Abe has insisted on "maximising pressure" on the North.

"We should work closely together to maintain and strengthen a rule of law-based international order on North Korea, which is now a threat to the global community", Abe told reporters in Lithuania's capital Vilnius.

His Lithuanian counterpart Saulius Skvernelis voiced support as did Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis with whom Abe met earlier in the day in Latvia's capital Riga.

Briefing reporters, Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Norio Maruyama said that although the threat posed by Pyongyang was "unprecedented", the full implementation of UN sanctions would have "a very strong effect on North Korea."

New UN sanctions passed against North Korea last month ban the supply of nearly 75 percent of refined oil products to Pyongyang and cap crude deliveries among other measures.

Abe kicked off his visit in fellow Baltic eurozone state Estonia on Friday, where he also discussed deepening cybersecurity and economic ties.

Japan is keen to raise its profile in the region as China bolsters its ties there.

China is pushing its massive $1 trillion "One Belt, One Road" initiative, which seeks to build rail, maritime and road links from Asia to Europe and Africa in a revival of ancient Silk Road trading routes.

On Sunday Abe will head to Lithuania's second largest city Kaunas to pay tribute to Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who saved 6,000 European Jews from the Holocaust by issuing visas to allow them to escape war-torn Lithuania.

Abe is the first sitting Japanese leader to visit the Baltic states and will also visit Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania before returning to Tokyo Wednesday.