By Xu Ruojie
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the visiting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in their recent meeting that the two sides will work more closely together, marking a new stage of the escalated strategic collaboration between the two sides. Analysts said the two parties’ collusion will risk creating bloc confrontation and division in the Asia Pacific and merits high vigilance of regional countries.
The joint statement released after the meeting underscored the so-called security cooperation in Asia as a key part of Japan-NATO strategic cooperation. It not only announced the two sides’ agreed perception of threats, namely “the world is at a historical inflection point in the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II”, but also went to great lengths to exaggerate the so-called military threats from China and put containing China and Russia high on the agenda of the Japan-NATO security cooperation. The statement also pinpointed the key areas of their future cooperation, including maritime security, arms control, cyberspace, and combat disinformation.
Japan and NATO have colluded more intensely in recent years. After the Ukraine crisis broke out, Japan quickly provided Ukraine with military supplies and sanctioned Russia following in the West’s steps, winning NATO’s high appreciation. Last June, the Japanese Prime Minister was invited to attend the NATO summit for the first time; in November, Japan became the second Asian country after the ROK to officially join the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence. Stoltenberg’s recent Japan visit has once again captured international attention.
But under the seeming intimacy are their own axes to be grinded. After the Cold War ended, NATO has been committed to its transformation and eastward expansion and extended its antenna to the Asia Pacific to create a mini-Asian-Pacific version of itself. As an important member of America’s Asian-Pacific alliance system, Japan plays a critical part in NATO’s regional strategy. Therefore, in light of the rising influence of the region on the international stage, the organization has been approaching Japan to pave the way for meddling in regional affairs anytime, under the disguise of “rooting for Japan”.
On its part, Japan also has its calculations for bringing NATO into Asia. Some Japanese politicians believed that would uplift the country’s international status and gain support from the US and the West while also enhancing its military capacities. Tokyo rolled out a string of security policies last year, with the three ones passed at the end of 2022, which vowed to develop the so-called counterattack capabilities, drawing close attention from surrounding countries. During his visit, the NATO chief’s welcome of the shift in Japan’s security policies doubtlessly gave the latter more confidence to accelerate its military buildup.
A look back on history would easily show that although NATO claims to be a collective defense organization, there is always conflict and turmoil wherever it reaches out its strategic antenna to. Its current escalated collusion with Japan, especially the strategic plans of the two heavily charged with a Cold War mindset, is bound to roil the Asian Pacific region and push it toward bloc confrontation, a tendency the international community should be highly alert against.
(The author is from the Institute of European Studies of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)