February 3, 2023
TOKYO – Japan cannot join military alliances among Western nations. However, deepening security cooperation to enhance deterrence is significant.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo, and the two confirmed their intention to strengthen cooperation in the defense field.
The joint statement compiled by Japan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is noteworthy.
The statement referred to China by name, expressing the view that, “With regard to China’s rapid strengthening of its military capabilities and expansion of military activities,” Beijing needs to improve transparency. They also noted “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Another statement issued when Stoltenberg last visited Japan in 2017 also included wording that expressed concern about China’s attempts to change the status quo, but avoided criticizing the country by name.
China has been building military bases in the South China Sea and has repeatedly engaged in coercive activities around Taiwan. It can be said that NATO’s growing sense of caution over such hegemonic behavior is reflected in the statement this time.
The joint statement strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and expressed concern about close military cooperation between China and Russia.
The unity of Japan, the United States and European nations is essential to restore the international order, which has been shaken by China and Russia.
The joint statement also identified cyberspace and outer space as specific areas of defense cooperation between Japan and NATO. It can be said that these areas are not affected by geographical distance, such as between Europe and Asia, making it easier to cooperate with each other.
Prior to his visit to Japan, Stoltenberg visited South Korea. In his speech there, he stressed the need for South Korea’s military assistance to Ukraine.
Last year, Japan reviewed the operational guidelines of the three principles for the transfer of defense equipment and provided Ukraine with bulletproof vests and protective masks. But equipment capable of causing death or harm is still not covered by the reviewed guidelines.
Last month, the Japanese government began training in Cambodia for Ukrainian government personnel to remove land mines and other items laid by the Russian military. This is based on the Japanese government’s experience in clearing land mines in Cambodia after the civil war there. It is important to continue this kind of support that makes use of Japan’s strengths.
The government has so far invested a total of about $1.5 billion (about ¥195 billion) in assistance to Ukraine, including the provision of food and generators, and financial assistance. However, Japan’s assistance pales compared to that of other developed nations.
Considering the deteriorating security environment surrounding Japan, the Ukraine crisis is no longer someone else’s affair. In the event of a contingency in Asia, Japan could rely on European support. It is vital to steadily build up support for Ukraine and foster a relationship of trust with Europe.