June 21, 2022
TOKYO – Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is considering meeting with the leaders of South Korea, Australia and New Zealand on the sidelines of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s summit next week in Madrid, according to sources.
Besides Kishida, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have also been invited to the NATO summit as Asia-Pacific partners of the alliance.
Kishida has said he will attend the June 28-30 NATO gathering, which would make him the first prime minister from Japan to attend the summit of this major alliance that counts the United States and most of western Europe among its membership.
The four-way summit Kishida is considering likely will aim to promote the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The Asia-Pacific leaders are expected to express their unity in opposing unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas, with Beijing in mind.
The issue of providing support to Pacific island nations over which China is increasing its influence is also expected to be on the agenda.
NATO is currently focused mainly on dealing with the situation in Ukraine and might take more of an interest in Asia should the meeting be held on the sidelines of its summit.
Japan is also part of a framework with the United States, Australia and India known as the Quad, which China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has called an attempt to create an “Indo-Pacific version of NATO.”
Kishida’s four-nation Asia-Pacific summit, if realized, could work as an another grouping to keep China in check.
As for a bilateral summit with Yoon during the NATO summit, the Japanese government will likely put off such plans.
“The right environment has not developed,” said a senior government official, citing the lack of clarity over Seoul’s next move regarding the issue of wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula and the court rulings against Japanese companies.
There is, however, always the possibility that Kishida and Yoon will have unofficial talks or informal chats during the NATO summit.
“Tense relations should not be left unattended,” Kishida said at a press conference in Tokyo on Wednesday.
“The issue of wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula and other pending concerns must be urgently resolved.”