Several countries in Southeast Asia show displeasure over the rising Chinese influence in the region. For some time they have been concerned over a possible Chinese attack on Taiwan. Moreover, Beijing has been strengthening its military presence by making strategic pacts with other states and building artificial islands in the South China Sea. Japan has some diplomatic disputes with China (e.g. over Senkaku islands or for Chinese boats violating Japanese waters) and it has been trying to discourage China from further advance. That is why Tokyo is arranging its own strategic partnerships with several countries from the region.
Japanese PM Fumio Kishida attended the NATO Summit in Madrid and tried to warn the member states about the potential Chinese threat as the eyes of the whole world are focused on Ukraine. The policy of previous US President Donald Trump called America First diminished the trust Southeast Asian countries had for the USA. That is one of the reasons why Kishida has been trying to establish security cooperation with other NATO members. The effort of the Japanese PM is reflected also in NATO Strategic Concept 2022. In this document, China was for the first time described as a challenge.
Beijing’s reaction came almost immediately. Chinese elites accused NATO of provocations and using Cold War tactics. According to China, it is NATO that is creating problems all around the world.
Another output of the NATO Summit is an agreement between Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand on a strategic partnership. A road map should be created concerning closer cooperation on cybersecurity, maritime security, and the fight against climate change and terrorism. In the next five years, Japan plans to bolster its defences and increase military spending.
On June 29, trilateral talks took place between Japanese PM Kishida, US President Joe Biden and recently elected South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol. It was the first meeting of this kind since 2017. The three leaders agreed on closer cooperation concerning North Korea. This meeting took place while speculations were appearing that North Korea could be preparing for another test of nuclear weapons. The spokesperson of the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned this meeting and stated that Washington is trying to create an Asian version of NATO. According to Pyongyang, the US is using North Korea as an excuse to dominate the Asia-Pacific.
Kishida’s latest actions correspond with his previous efforts. In April, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern visited Japan. Her visit resulted in the Joint Statement on Strategic Cooperative Partnership for Common Peace, Security and Prosperity. This document emphasises the importance of security and defence cooperation between Japan and New Zealand. A maritime cooperation treaty was concluded also with newly elected Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos Jr whose inauguration was attended by Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi. The treaty contains e.g. enhancement of Filipino coast guard equipment.
Chinese expansion poses a security threat to Japan and Tokyo hopes to make enough allies to deter Beijing from further escalating tension in the region. It is important for Japan that NATO is not turning its back on East Asia. All these steps to assure national security can also help Kishida in the upcoming elections for the upper house of the Japanese parliament (House of Councillors), which will be held on July 10.