EDITO: Stronger ties with Europe serve Japan’s strategic interests

While Russia and China challenge the existing world order, the United States remains trapped in an inward-looking mindset. In this troubling global landscape, it makes sense for Japan and Europe to strengthen their relationship based on the mutual support of shared values.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida recently visited Britain and Italy after his East Asia tour. Next week, the leaders of Finland and the European Union will visit Japan after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s trip to the country last month. Kishida should use the diplomatic momentum created by these interactions to develop a new, multi-faceted foreign policy agenda.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is putting strong pressure on the international community to put in place a new framework for security protection. Neither the UN Security Council nor the G20 have been able to work effectively in the face of the crisis. It is, after all, the leading democracies of the Group of Seven that have spearheaded international efforts to punish Russia and support Ukraine.

The G-7 is made up of the major western democratic and industrial nations of North America and Europe, as well as Japan. The implications of closer ties between Japan and Europe should not be underestimated.

Under the Trump administration, relations between Washington and Brussels have become seriously strained. Japan and Europe must remain firmly committed to supporting the diplomatic framework to protect freedom and democracy.

Europe began to show increasing diplomatic interest in Asia before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For some time, Europe’s interest in Asia has focused on the economic benefits it could reap from the region’s growing markets. But there are signs of a change in Europe’s attitude. Europeans became alarmed at China’s rapidly expanding influence and began to pay closer and more critical attention to Beijing’s oppression of human rights.

Europe has every reason to be seriously concerned about China’s refusal to criticize Russian aggression. The expanded Europe summit with Tokyo signals the region’s renewed recognition of Japan as a key partner in efforts to maintain and expand their presence in Asia.

During their talks in London, Kishida and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed in principle on a new security cooperation framework to facilitate joint operations between the Self-Defense Forces and the Armed Forces training, exercises and disaster relief. The two leaders also discussed London’s bid to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade deal. The Kishida administration announced that Japan and Germany would launch regular formal talks focusing on security issues.

The brutal shock of the Russian invasion sounded the alarm in Europe as in Japan. Like Russia, China is also stepping up its confrontation with the United States. Washington must be prepared to deal with security threats from Russia in Europe and China in Asia for many years to come.

It’s hard to predict how the struggle for dominance between the great powers will play out and prepare for the risks that inevitably come with such high-stakes competition.

Japan has a clear interest in strengthening its security cooperation with Europe while keeping its security policy firmly anchored in its alliance with the United States. It is an era that demands a diplomatic strategy on several levels.

Tokyo, however, must remember that a confrontational approach centered on military power would serve neither its interests nor those of the region. The “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision that Japan promotes should not be a military initiative.

Rather, it should aim at the formation and development of an international order based on the principles of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. The Japanese government should seek stronger ties with Europe in accordance with this creed.

There are a range of global challenges that Japan and Europe can tackle together effectively, ranging from global warming to arms reduction to United Nations reform. Tokyo should consider Brussels as an essential partner in promoting the principle of international cooperation.

–The Asahi Shimbun, May 7

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