It is important to expand the scope of Japan’s diplomacy by efficiently utilizing the advantage of the long-running tenure of the current administration, which has entered its sixth year. From a strategic perspective, efforts should also be made to build multilayered relations with countries other than major nations.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is currently making a round of visits to three Baltic states and the three East European countries of Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. He is the first Japanese prime minister to make such visits.
In talks with Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, Abe referred to an increase in the firing range of North Korean ballistic missiles, and emphasized the situation was “a threat to all of Europe.” The two leaders agreed to reinforce pressure on the North.
The Baltic and Eastern European countries, excluding Estonia, have diplomatic relations with North Korea. To plug loopholes in sanctions against the North and heighten the effectiveness of the sanctions, it is not a matter of small significance to share awareness with these nations in this respect.
The three Baltic nations, including Estonia and Latvia, serve as a maritime logistics hub that connects the European Union and Russia, and they have great economic potential. The prime minister and the three countries’ leaders agreed to set up a comprehensive dialogue for cooperation between Japan and Baltic nations. Efforts should be quickened to flesh out the details of the plan.
Since the launch of his second administration in 2012, Abe has traveled to a total of 21 countries that he is the first Japanese prime minister to visit. Championing a diplomatic approach that takes “a panoramic perspective of the world map,” Abe is paying meticulous attention to Eastern European, African, Central and South American and other nations, too.
Boost political, economic ties
That is exactly what the long-running administration can do in the form of summit diplomacy. Lithuania, which loves and respects Chiune Sugihara — who saved the lives of many Jewish refugees by issuing them visas during World War II — is one of many pro-Japanese small countries. Expanding a relationship of continuous cooperation with them will serve Japan’s national interests.
Bulgaria will chair the EU during the first half of this year. In top-level talks with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Abe confirmed that both nations would endeavor to secure, at an early date, the signing of a Japan-EU economic partnership agreement on which negotiations were concluded in December.
Abe’s latest round of visits has been accompanied by representatives from about 30 private corporations, and they are holding discussions on such matters as expanding their business into the nations they are visiting. It is meaningful for both sides to deepen relations with each other in both political and economic fields, by utilizing the prime minister’s visits to these countries as an opportunity to help achieve that objective.
It is alarming to see that China is steadily increasing its influence in Central and Eastern European countries.
To promote its “One Belt, One Road” initiative aimed at establishing a huge economic zone, China is holding regular summit meetings with the leaders of 16 Central and Eastern European nations, known as the 16-plus one. Last year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Hungary, where he emphasized the top-level meetings will serve as “a springboard for the further implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative” in Europe.
China’s infrastructure investment and increased economic assistance must not be exclusive and only serve its own interests. To make the Chinese moves mutually beneficial and conducive to the stability of Europe, it is important for Japan to become actively involved in this in cooperation with Western European nations, too.