18 June 2007 - NATO PA Delegation Visit to Japan, 11-15 June 2007
Japan will continue to deregulate its economy, reinforce trade links throughout Asia and work to deepen ties with NATO and NATO members to advance global peace and security. This was the message 22 Parliamentarians from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly's Economics and Security Committee will bring back to their capitals after visiting Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, from June 11-15.
The delegation, led by John Sewel (United Kingdom), Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Economic Relations and consisting of national parliamentarians from 15 NATO member countries, held meetings at the National Diet, the Foreign, Defence, Economy and International Trade, and Finance Ministries. The delegation also had discussions with Ms. Yuriko Koike, the National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister, Mr. Taro Aso, the Foreign Minister of Japan and Mr. Fumio Kyuma, the Defense Minister. Meetings were also held with officials from the European Commission's delegation to Japan, experts in the British embassy - including Ambassador Sir Graham Fry - as well as a variety of other government and private sector leaders.
Japan's leaders recognize that their country's security is inextricably linked to global security developments including growing threats posed by non-state actors, weapons proliferation, illegal financial flows and failed states. Both the Foreign and Defence Ministers expressed strong concerns about security challenges in East Asia such as North Korea's nuclear ambitions and missile development programs, and China's large and "opaque" military build-up. These developments have sparked a reassessment of Japan's international role and the potential missions in which its Self-Defence Forces might participate.
Yuriko Koike, the National Security Adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, told the delegation that she has been asked to create a new National Security Council that will be charged with coordinating national security policy across various ministries which have not always been in the habit of communicating with each other. Japan's Defence Minister explained that his ministry had only recently been upgraded from the status of an agency to that of a full ministry, and that this too was an indication of Japan's shifting security perceptions.
The key message from Japan's leaders was a clear desire for deeper security cooperation with NATO and its member governments, and a willingness to contribute more actively to international peacekeeping operations to the extent that such missions had been upgraded from their previous status as "supplementary" missions for Japan's Self-Defence Forces and were now designated as "priority" missions.
A special commission had been appointed to investigate whether Japan's Constitution could be reinterpreted to ease some of the very tight restraints on the roles and missions of the Self-Defence Forces which have been largely confined to territorial defence and international humanitarian and reconstruction operations. There is also a movement to look at amending the Constitution more into line with the rest of the international community regarding involvement of its forces in international operations. This would enable Japan to operate more effectively with its international partners, contribute more effectively to global peace and development, and better defend its own national security. The government recognizes that this kind of reassessment is necessary given the shifting security situation in East Asia and Japan's global obligation to contribute positively to peace and security. Improving Japan's interoperability with international peacekeeping forces is another clear goal driving the nascent dialogue between Japan and NATO.
Indeed, both the Foreign and Defense Ministers underlined the importance of Prime Minister Abe's visit to NATO headquarters this year and pointed to the country's support for several key NATO missions. Among other initiatives, Japan has deployed naval assets in the Indian Ocean to provide refuelling support for Western forces and is also underwriting the work of a Lithuanian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) operating in Afghanistan.
Delegation members also learned that Japan has begun to emerge from a decade of slow growth and deflation. The Koizumi and Abe governments have implemented an array of reforms designed to make the Japanese economy more competitive globally, and these reforms as well as growing trade links in Asia have helped pull the Japanese economy back to a position of growth. Japanese leaders are convinced, moreover, that growing Asian trade and financial links with China could help improve the regional economy. It will also improve the security outlook by encouraging China to develop ever closer and more positive relations with its neighbours. Deregulation and budgetary austerity remain key priorities for the government. Japan recognizes that its powerful and growing economy provides a degree of global leverage and responsibility particularly in the area of development policy. The need to reduce the budget deficit, however, is imposing limits both on its defence and development assistance budgets.
At the conclusion of the visit, John Sewel said that "There is a clear convergence between NATO members and the Japanese on an array of security and economic matters and this convergence is underpinned by common democratic values and shared security concerns. We will strongly support more intensive cooperation in future between the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the Japanese Diet."
In view of the many security concerns shared by Japan and NATO, participating parliamentarians are interested in exploring ways in which this ever-more important bilateral relationship might be strengthened. The NATO PA's Economics and Security Committee has been focusing on Asia for the past three years, and in that time, has also produced two reports on China which are also posted on the NATO PA website. This year the Sub-Committee has been considering a report, drafted by co-Rapporteurs US Congressman John Boozman and Lithuanian MP Petras Austrevicius, on the rapidly changing East Asian economic and security systems. The primary purpose of the visit was to generate information for that paper's revision and updating. A revised report will be considered for adoption in October 2007 during the Assembly's annual session in Iceland.