The Japanese government is accelerating its diplomatic efforts to develop frameworks for security cooperation. With the future of the U.S. policy toward Asia rendered uncertain under the incoming Trump administration, Japan has turned its attention toward building a framework for cooperation with the European Union, Australia, and other nations in order to check China’s maritime advancement.
During a trip to Europe that ended on Jan. 8, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada visited the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Brussels, Belgium, to meet with Secretary General Stoltenberg. The two agreed to cooperate more closely on maritime security and other areas. Inada also attended a Japan-France Foreign and Defense Ministers’ meeting (2-plus-2) in Paris, France, along with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
At the 2-plus-2 meeting, Japan and France agreed to start talks on an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA) that would enable the Self-Defense Forces and the French military to transfer and utilize each other’s ammunition and other supplies. Although the participants never mentioned China by name, they issued a joint declaration after the meeting expressing their strong opposition to unilateral actions that increase tensions in the South China Sea. The French navy has been deployed to the Pacific region, including New Caledonia. Kishida, who is visiting the Czech Republic, will meet with Foreign Minister Zaoralek on Jan. 8 (the early morning of Jan. 9, Japan time). Since 2012, China has been holding annual summit meetings with the leaders of 16 Central and Eastern European nations, including the Czech Republic, aiming to strengthen its economic ties with the region. Japan hopes to obtain cooperation from these countries in addressing the issue of the South China Sea.
Japan also hopes to conclude an ACSA with the U.K., and is considering signing a revision of its ACSA with Australia.
However, things may not move forward according to Japan’s plans. The focus of security policy in Europe is the Middle East and Russia, and the EU’s stance toward China is different from that of Japan, according to a senior defense official. After the 2-plus-2 meeting, French Foreign Minister Ayrault said to the press: “Japan is our second biggest partner (after China) in Asia,” showing consideration for Beijing as a close economic partner.