1. Japan will support the efforts by US President Donald Trump to negotiate a denuclearisation of North Korea but will continue to pursue a cautious approach toward the regime of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), a delegation of NATO Parliamentarians was told during a recent visit to Japan. Japan is also directly threatened by the DRPK’s ballistic missiles and its biological and chemical weapons.
2. The delegation consisted of the Assembly’s Sub-Committee on NATO Partnerships (PCNP) and the Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Economic Relations (ESCTER). The group, comprising 28 parliamentarians from 13 NATO member countries, led by Metin Lutfi Baydar (Turkey), visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka from 18 to 22 June 2018. The purpose of the visit was to obtain a comprehensive picture of the security environment in the region and Japan’s response to the challenges. During the visit, the delegation received in-depth briefings by senior officials from the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs of Japan and engaged in an active dialogue with the Diet Members’ Council for Comprehensive Security (DMCCS). The Japanese Diet participates in the NATO PA as a parliamentary observer. Discussions with independent experts at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, the University of Kyoto, the Shimadzu Seisakusho Corporation and the Osaka Prefectural Government rounded off the programme.
3. Japanese interlocutors stressed that Japan is facing a set of different challenges. These include North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the rise of China, and threats to the global trading system. The latter have been exacerbated by the US withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and the tariffs that the US administration recently announced on Japanese steel and aluminium. Both Japanese officials and independent experts expressed concern that the United States under the current administration has retreated from leading on some of the issues which have been so important to building global stability, including trade. However, few interlocutors said they believed that the United States would withdraw from its security commitments in East Asia.
4. North Korea, particularly its nuclear and missile programmes, poses an immediate threat to Japan. Host country speakers expressed the hope that the recent meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore may represent a step towards denuclearisation. A Foreign Ministry official attributed the DPRK’s willingness to negotiate, in part, to Japan’s policy of “maximum pressure”. There was a general consensus that it will take considerable time and effort before the goal of a denuclearised North Korea can be achieved.
5. Speakers further agreed that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) will have to play a crucial role if a negotiated settlement with the DPRK is to be achieved. Official and independent speakers noted that China and Japan have important economic ties, and there is a shared history with many fruitful contacts as well as tensions between the two countries. Today, there is considerable concern in Japan about the PRC’s increasingly assertive approach towards Japan and other countries in the region, apparent, among others, in Beijing’s territorial claims in the South and East China Seas and its rapidly growing and opaque defence expenditures. Thus, several speakers considered China as posing Japan’s greatest long-term security concern. Russia has also built up its military presence in the region, particularly in the disputed northern territories (Kurile Islands) which were occupied by Russia at the end of World War II but claimed by Japan. The number of fighter scrambles undertaken by the Japanese air force in response to provocative flights by China and Russia has increased significantly in recent years.
6. Japan’s response to this challenging security environment is threefold, the delegation learned. First, it is improving its defensive capabilities by various means, including by modernising its armed forces and by strengthening its missile defence. Second, Japan is actively working on reinforcing the Japan-US alliance, which remains crucial not only to the country’s defence but also to regional security and stability overall. Third, Japan is deepening collaboration on shared security interests with other partners, such as Australia, South Korea, India, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This emphasis on multilateral security cooperation is also reflected in the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”, Tokyo’s new foreign policy strategy.
7. In addition, Japan is interested in developing its partnership with NATO further, Minister of State Tomohiro Yamamoto and other Japanese officials underlined. To that end, Japan plans to upgrade its representation at NATO HQ by designating its embassy to Belgium as its Mission to NATO. Tokyo also wants to cooperate with NATO in the area of cyber security. Japan is NATO’s longest-standing partner outside Europe; it has supported a number of NATO operations in the past, including through funding development assistance and police training in Afghanistan and through participating in counterpiracy drills off the coast of Somalia.
8. On the economic front, the Japanese economy has begun to grow again, but there are important structural problems including a huge public debt exceeding 200% of GDP. Moreover, the demographic challenge that the country is facing as a result of an aging population will invariably increase the burden on public spending.
9. Developments in the EU-Japan Strategic Partnership and the Bilateral Trade and Investment Partnership were discussed at the Representation of the European Union to Japan. The visit concluded with briefings by Ichiro Matsui, Governor, and other representatives of the Osaka Prefectural Government on measures to prevent, prepare for, and respond to civil emergencies. The officials also provided in-depth information about the impact of the earthquake that hit the region of Osaka on 18 June, in the midst of the visit.