Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Tokyo on January 31, 2023. (Photo/Reuters)
By Wen Weiru
According to Japanese media reports, NATO had planned to open a permanent NATO liaison office in Tokyo in 2024, which will be the first liaison site of NATO in Asia. This move highlights that the traditional Western military alliance has expanded beyond conventional defense and penetrated into the Asia-Pacific region substantially.
Relevant reports mentioned that the liaison office plan was mutually agreed upon by both sides during Stoltenberg's visit to Japan in January 2023. The two leaders pledged to strengthen ties between NATO and Japan at the meeting, and the liaison office was a key part of the efforts. This office will be responsible for facilitating regular consultations between NATO and its regional partners including Japan, ROK, Australia and New Zealand. NATO and Japan are currently negotiating over staffing allocation, workplace, operation funding and other issues. It is speculated by the Japanese media that the funds of the office will be borne by Japan, with a small crew size at the initial stage.
NATO has a long tradition of establishing liaison offices in hotspot regions. In addition to Ukraine, similar institutions can also be found in Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Kuwait and other countries. The plan to open a liaison office in Japan signifies that NATO has identified the Asia-Pacific region as a hotspot for future military confrontation. This is also a substantive representation of NATO to enhance its relations with Japan and reflects that driven by the US, the interaction between NATO and Japan has gradually changed from superficial to practical and from shallow to deep, toward a tendency of institutionalized and normalized development. In the future, NATO may further extend its tentacle of interest to the Asia-Pacific and regularly intervene in the affairs of this region.
Analysts pointed out that NATO, Japan and the US are all intending to take the opening of a NATO liaison office in Japan as an opportunity to pursue their own strategic interest.
NATO hopes to gain an initial "anchor" in the Asia-Pacific region. With the implementation of the liaison office, it can elevate the defense cooperation with Japan by a large margin, and attain a heightened sense of participation in the coordination with US global strategic adjustment as well as the great power competition and geopolitical confrontation in the Asia-Pacific. Although geographically distributed alongside the Atlantic Ocean, NATO member states have continuously intervened in the situation of the Western Pacific transregionally in recent years by relying on its regional partners including Australia, Japan, ROK and New Zealand.
Japan hopes to enhance its regional influence with the aid of NATO. In order to acquire recognition for its military development plans uninhibited by post-war order from the Western countries, Japan has taken several approaches to bring NATO forces into the Asia-Pacific region, including agreeing with the UK and other NATO member states on the exchange of military personnel and equipment and conducting joint military exercises with NATO countries including the UK, Germany and France. In 2022, Japan also joined the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) and attended the NATO summit meetings as an extraterritorial country.
The US hopes to spur new military alliances by taking this opportunity. Since the acceleration of the Asia-Pacific strategic layout adjustment, it has been attempting to introduce and copy the NATO military alliance mechanism to the Asia-Pacific region, so as to relieve its own strategic pressure by harnessing the power of new military alliance. Aside from facilitating Japan-ROK reconciliation and forming US-Japan-ROK trilateral military alliance, it had also successively built the AUKUS with the US, UK and Australia at its core, along with the QUAD dominated by the US, Japan, India and Australia, and still plans to build an Asian version of NATO.
NATO's persistent efforts on breaking through traditional defense zones and areas to seek reinforced military and security ties with Asia-Pacific countries are indeed deliberately provoking disputes and differences, advertising bloc confrontation and creating tensions in this region. Such actions will evoke vigilance and countermeasures from those regional countries that adhere to peace and development ideology.