BRUSSELS - EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini welcomed Monday Japan's higher profile role in regional and global security, although many of its neighbours including China have expressed deep reservations over Tokyo's moves.
Last week, Japan approved its largest-ever defence budget, reflecting hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's belief the country should have a more active military in keeping with its standing as a top world economy.
After meeting Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Mogherini said the European Union supported Japan "in taking up more of its responsibilities on regional and global security."
"Japan is a key EU ally in its region and globally," she said, adding that her goal was to expand cooperation and "to realise our shared vision of a peaceful and prosperous future for our citizens and the world."
Mogherini said the 28-nation bloc and Japan have a similar outlook and views, underpinning the EU's drive to negotiate a Strategic Partnership Agreement plus a free trade accord as quickly as possible.
In 2013, Japan and the EU agreed to upgrade ties, which would be based on the two accords to ensure enhanced political and trade connections.
Citing Japan's policy of "proactive contribution to peace," a statement said Tokyo and Brussels were also "moving towards a significantly strengthened security partnership, through concrete crisis management cooperation in support of several African countries."
China and several Asian countries harbour deep distrust of Japan in light of is brutal World War II record which has become overlaid with a series of territorial disputes, mostly at sea.
The EU has consistently urged all sides to settle such disputes peacefully.