. The delegation also visited the Japanese coastguards third regional district headquarters in Yokohama and met Admiral Kenichi Kuramoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Self-Defence Forces. Lastly, the parliamentarians visited the Institute for Disaster Prevention and Human Safety, established following the great earthquake of 1985, which had left at the time over 6000 dead and thousands injured in Kobe.
“you [the delegation] want to know more about us and we do want to know more about you” noted Mr Maeda from the start of the meetings. During many exchanges of views the Japanese authorities repeatedly referred to the strategic consequences of China ’s emergence for the country and the region; incidentally the visit took place in an atmosphere of tense diplomatic relations with China, following an incident in September involving a fishing boat and Japanese coastguards off the disputed Senkaku Islands. With regard to regional force ratios and the stability of the region, the authorities also expressed their concerns about their relations with North Korea and their rightful anxiety regarding all issues of nuclear proliferation. Mr Maeda stressed to the delegation that in this context “significance of dialogue is increasing”.
The entire delegation found this visit extremely “instructive” as it revealed many concerns common to Alliance countries and to Japan, such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, piracy, Afghanistan and anti-missile defence. Thus the visit gave members the opportunity to express to Japan their “gratitude for its efforts in helping to build peace and security in the world”. According to Mr Stinner it is therefore particularly important “to cultivate our ties with this country, and even to strengthen them in a practical way”.
The choice of Japan for a visit by the Sub-Committee on NATO Partnerships (Political Committee) was far from haphazard. Japan has been assisting Alliance peace operations for many years. It has been particularly active in the stabilisation of the Balkans. At present, and although Japan is not a member of the Alliance, it is providing substantial logistical, financial and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan through Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) co‑ordinated by NATO. In the course of the visit, members learned that in 2010 alone Japan had funded no less than six months’ pay for the Afghan national police and some 88 ISAF support projects (literacy, education, health, vocational training, etc.). The parliamentarians also welcomed the message from the Japanese authorities that they wished to become involved in training the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), although Japan is limited constitutionally in terms of military commitments.Since 2009, an amendment to the constitution (2009) has also enabled Japan to take an active part in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, thanks to the assignment of two patrol aircraft and two destroyers. Since then, these have carried out over 180 missions in the area escorting ships, whether Japanese or not. According to Denis MacShane (United Kingdom ), the vice-chairman of the Sub-Committee on NATO Partnerships, these efforts make this country “an absolutely indispensable partner for the Alliance in Asia ”.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly has kept up relations with Japan since the late 70s, and since the 1981 Munich Session Japan has been regularly represented at Annual Sessions as a Parliamentary Observer.
This was the second visit by a Sub-Committee of the NATO PA, the first having been led in 2007 by John Sewel (United Kingdom ), then Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Economic Relations.