Japanese PM visits Louvre as he arrives in France

PARIS (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in France Sunday on the latest leg of a six-nation European tour for trade and security talks at a time of mounting tensions with China.

Mr Abe arrived in the French capital on Sunday afternoon and immediately left for a private visit to the Louvre that included stops at the museum's best known works, including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.

His visit kicks off in full gear on Monday with a meeting with French President Francois Hollande, with whom he will address a joint press conference, followed by a meeting with French businessmen at the Paris Chamber of Commerce.

Japanese diplomatic sources said while no major business deals were expected in Paris, talks with the French side would focus on a free-trade pact that Tokyo is trying to forge with the European Union that has been snagged by the thorny issue of tariffs and trade barriers.

The EU wants progress on non-tariff barriers in certain Japanese markets, while for Tokyo, a key issue is that Brussels dismantle customs duties on Japanese autos, a sensitive topic for big car producer and exporter, Germany.

The Japanese sources said another important item expected on the agenda were heightened tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over a tense territorial dispute over islands in the East China Sea.

Relations between the two countries have fallen to their lowest point in years and Japan on Sunday sent a team of senior lawmakers to China on a fence-mending visit.

Chinese vessels and aircraft regularly approach disputed East China Sea islands after Japan nationalised some of them in September 2012, inflaming the long-running territorial dispute.

On Tuesday, Mr Abe is due to meet the head of the OECD Angel Gurria and deliver a speech at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Experts say Abe is likely to tout his growth policy blitz - a mixture of big government spending and central bank monetary easing dubbed Abenomics, which is designed to drag the economy out of years of deflation and laggard growth.

Mr Abe's European tour includes stops at Germany, Britain, Portugal, Spain and Belgium.