Exclusive: Japan is in talks to open a NATO office in Tokyo, foreign minister says

Tokyo(CNN) Japan is in talks to open a NATO liaison office, the primary of its sort in Asia, the nation’s foreign minister informed CNN in an unique interview on Wednesday, saying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made the world much less steady.

“We are already in discussions, but no details (have been) finalized yet,” Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi stated on Wednesday.

Hayashi particularly cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine final 12 months as an occasion with repercussions far past Europe’s borders that pressured Japan to rethink regional safety.

“The reason why we are discussing about this is that since the aggression by Russia to Ukraine, the world (has) become more unstable,” he stated.

“Something happening in East Europe is not only confined to the issue in East Europe, and that affects directly the situation here in the Pacific. That’s why a cooperation between us in East Asia and NATO (is) becoming … increasingly important.”

He added that Japan is not a treaty member of NATO, which stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — however that the transfer sends a message the bloc’s Asia Pacific companions are “engaging in a very steady manner” with NATO.

The opening of a NATO liaison office in Japan would mark a vital growth for the Western alliance amid deepening geopolitical fault strains, and is doubtless to entice criticism from the Chinese authorities, which has beforehand warned in opposition to such a transfer.

The Nikkei Asia first reported plans to open the office in Japan final Wednesday, citing unnamed Japanese and NATO officers.

NATO has related liaison workplaces in different locations together with Ukraine and Vienna. The liaison office in Japan will allow discussions with NATO’s safety companions, akin to South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, on geopolitical challenges, rising and disruptive applied sciences, and cyber threats, Nikkei reported final week.

In a assertion to CNN final week, a NATO spokesperson stated: “As to plans to open a liaison office in Japan, we won’t go into the details of ongoing deliberations among NATO allies.” She added that NATO and Japan “have a long-standing cooperation.”

CNN reached out to NATO for touch upon Wednesday after Hayashi’s remarks.

Complex safety state of affairs

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine despatched shockwaves by Europe and drove non-aligned Finland and Sweden to abandon their neutrality and search safety inside NATO, with Finland formally becoming a member of the bloc final month.

The warfare has additionally seen international locations like Japan and South Korea draw nearer to their Western companions, whereas presenting a united entrance in opposition to perceived threats nearer to house.

Speaking to CNN on Wednesday, Hayashi highlighted what he described as Japan’s “severe and complex” regional safety surroundings, noting that in addition to elevated Russian aggression, Tokyo is additionally contending with a nuclear-armed North Korea and a rising China.

China has been rising its naval and air forces in areas close to Japan whereas claiming the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited Japanese-controlled chain in the East China Sea, as its sovereign territory. In the face of rising friction, Japan not too long ago introduced plans for its greatest army buildup since World War II.

Tensions between Japan and Russia have additionally been growing in current months, fueled in half by Russian army drills in the waters between the 2 nations, and joint Chinese-Russian naval patrols in the western Pacific shut to Japan.

In April, Russian warships performed anti-submarine workouts in the Sea of Japan, often known as the East Sea — and in March, Russian missile boats fired cruise missiles at a mock goal in the identical waters. And after Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a shock go to to Ukraine in March, two Russian strategic bombers, able to carrying nuclear weapons, flew over waters off the Japanese coast for greater than seven hours, Reuters reported.

Despite the rising regional tensions, Hayashi stated the potential opening of the office was not aimed toward particular international locations. “This is not intended…to be sending a message,” stated Hayashi.

He added that Japan and different international locations nonetheless want to cooperate with China on bigger points akin to local weather change and the Covid-19 pandemic, and that Tokyo needed a “constructive and stable relationship” with Beijing.

Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force disembark from a V-22 Osprey plane throughout a reside hearth train in Gotemba, Japan, on May 28, 2022.

China response

China has beforehand warned in opposition to NATO increasing its attain into Asia and responded angrily to earlier stories on the doable Japan office.

“Asia is a promising land for cooperation and a hotbed for peaceful development. It should not be a platform for those who seek geopolitical fights,” stated Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning in a briefing final week. “NATO’s eastward push and interference in Asia Pacific matters will definitely undermine regional peace and stability.”

Though Beijing has claimed impartiality in the Ukraine warfare and no advance information of Russia’s intent, it has refused to condemn Moscow’s actions. Instead, it has parroted Kremlin lines blaming NATO for scary the battle — additional fracturing relationships with each Europe and the US.

And in March, senior Chinese Foreign Ministry officers and influential Communist Party publications accused the United States of searching for to construct a NATO-like bloc in the Indo-Pacific, with one official warning of “unimaginable” penalties.

On Wednesday, Hayashi performed down considerations that opening a Tokyo NATO office might additional inflame tensions, saying: “I don’t feel that’s the case.”

The nation has had a pacifist structure since World War II — which he argued is mirrored in this transfer.

“We are not offending anyone, we’re defending ourselves from any kind of interference and concerns, and in some cases threats,” he stated.

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