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Germany continues bargaining with Japan, China over planned port calls

  • June 6, 2021
  • , Sankei , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

By Hanzawa Naohisa


It was revealed that the Japanese and German governments are arranging for a German warship to make a port call in Japan in November and planning to hold joint training by taking advantage of large-scale exercises of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF). Berlin is also considering having the warship call at a Chinese port. The Japanese government is poised to differentiate the port call in Japan from that in China, which is aimed at promoting friendly relations between Germany and China, by conducting joint training. Japan, China, and Germany will step up bargaining over the joint training plan until November.


“It’s not clear whether China will accept the port call,” says a senior Japanese government official. The official also says the German warship’s port call in China has not yet been finalized and that it is likely that China is putting off a decision on the matter. China may be holding its reply in suspense because it is wary of port calls made by foreign warships out of concern for COVID-19. But many believe that China is trying to discern whether Germany will become deeply involved in the anti-China campaign led by Japan and the U.S.


China has a history of putting off a decision on accepting a port call by an MSDF warship and rejecting it at the last minute. It is quite possible that China will also put off a decision about the port call of the German warship until autumn and during that time undermine the joint training plan led by Japan and Germany. 


Germany had emphasized its economic relationship with China. But in September last year, Germany formulated guidelines showing the direction of its policy on the Indo-Pacific region with an eye toward the expansion of China’s hegemonic influence. The guidelines say that Germany will play an active role in the Indo-Pacific region and set the security goals of (1) increasing cooperation with partner nations, (2) participating in training, and (3) strengthening its maritime presence to maintain a rules-based order.


Following the formulation of the guidelines, Japan and Germany held the first meeting between foreign and defense ministers (two-plus-two talks) in April this year. The ministers agreed to advance coordination for conducting joint training when the German warship is dispatched to Japan. Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo said, “The defense cooperation between Japan and Germany has entered a new stage.”


Meanwhile, a senior official of the Japanese government points out that the German government is planning to have the warship make a port call in China “out of consideration for domestic constituencies that value the relationship with China.” It is possible that [Germany] will give consideration to China until November by requesting joint training be held away from the East China Sea or hesitating to join antisubmarine warfare and other elaborate exercises in order not to provoke China.


The reduced quality of joint training will make it less effective as a message that Japan, along with Germany, a key member of the European Union, will not allow China’s self-serving maritime expansion. We can’t say that the Japan-German defense cooperation has entered a new stage until effective training is implemented.


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