L to R: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol pose for photos during a meeting in Madrid, Spain, on June 29, 2022.
On June 29, Kishida Fumio became the first Japanese Prime Minister to attend a NATO summit. At the summit in Madrid, Spain, Kishida called for a major improving Japan’s ties with NATO. He suggested several concrete steps to this end, including upgrading the 2014 Japan-NATO Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program, dispatching officials from the Japan Self-Defense Forces to NATO Headquarters, the presence of Japanese and NATO observers at each other’s exercises, arranging a visit to Japan by NATO. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and inviting Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea – collectively referred to as by NATO as “Asia-Pacific partners” – at NATO summits on a regular basis.
Kishida stressed throughout the summit that the security of Europe and the Indo-Pacific were “inseparable”. While of course Kishida is interested in what Europe can do for Japan, this language begs the question, what can Japan do for Europe? In preparation for this argument, which he also referred to during the Shangri-La dialogue, Kishida imposed additional sanctions against Russia June 26, including a ban on gold imports from Russia; prohibit the provision of services to Russia in the areas of accounting, trusts, consulting and others; freezing the assets of about 70 people and organizations in Russia; and extending the export ban to organizations linked to the Russian military.
Kishida also makes it clear that while Japan may not be in a position to help NATO members militarily, Japan does not just ask others for help, but is ready to do more for his own defense. Reiterating many of the themes and promises of his Shangri-La dialogue, Kishida promised NATO:
In response to the current international situation, Japan will develop a new national security strategy by the end of 2022. In addition, we will fundamentally strengthen our defense capabilities within five years, and I am determined to achieve an appropriate increase in our defense spending to support such reinforcement. We will strengthen our security cooperation with like-minded countries and our partners while raising the Japan-US alliance to new heights.
It seems that Kishida’s rhetoric and willingness to impose sanctions on Russia was well received by NATO leaders. For the very first time, NATO Strategic design, a document that will guide NATO for the next decade, China said. The document stated that “China’s stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge [NATO members’] interests, security and values. It lists many areas of concern, including China’s non-transparent conventional and nuclear military buildup, “malicious hybrid and cyber operations”, “confrontational rhetoric and disinformation”, attempts “to control technology and industrial sectors”. keys, critical infrastructure and strategic materials”. and supply chains”, “[creating] strategic dependencies”, “[striving] overturning the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains,” and “deepening the strategic partnership” with Russia.
The Declaration of the Madrid Summit also similarly states, “We face systemic competition from those, including the People’s Republic of China, who challenge our interests, security and values and seek to undermine the rules-based international order.”
Given these deliverables, Kishida was able to claim success when he told reporters in Madrid: “I confirmed the realization that the security of Europe and the Indo-Pacific are inseparable and that any change of the status quo by force will not be tolerated in any area.”
On the sidelines of the NATO summit, Kishida also held a trilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, during which the leaders discussed the North Korean threat and the United States reiterated its commitment to the defense of Japan and Korea from South. It was the first face-to-face meeting between the leaders of these three countries in approximately five years. Kishida also held a quadrangle meeting with Yoon, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The NATO summit was the first time Kishida and Yoon, inaugurated on May 10, have met in person. Tensions between South Korea and Japan are running high, following former President Moon Jae-in’s decision to end an agreement with Japan settling the “comfort women” dispute. Subsequent rulings by South Korean courts holding Japanese companies liable for forced labor during World War II also sparked an outcry in Tokyo, followed by Japan’s decision to impose trade restrictions on South Korea.
The new Yoon administration, however, has made clear its desire to normalize the relationship. Although there were talks of holding a bilateral meeting between Kishida and Yoon on the sidelines of the NATO summit, these were dropped due to concerns over the reaction of Japanese conservatives to the elections for the upper house are approaching. However, there is momentum for real improvement in Japan-South Korea relations following the July 10 upper house elections in Japan.