TOKYO — Japan is in talks to open a NATO liaison office, the first of its kind in Asia, the country’s foreign minister told CNN in an exclusive interview on Wednesday, saying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made the world less stable.
“We are already in discussions, but no details (have been) finalized yet,” Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said on Wednesday.
Hayashi specifically cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year as an event with repercussions far beyond Europe’s borders that forced Japan to rethink regional security.
“The reason why we are discussing about this is that since the aggression by Russia to Ukraine, the world (has) become more unstable,” he said.
“Something happening in East Europe is not only confined to the issue in East Europe, and that directly affects the situation here in the Pacific. That’s why a cooperation between us in East Asia and NATO (is) becoming … increasingly important.”
The Nikkei Asia first reported plans to open the office in Japan last Wednesday, citing unnamed Japanese and NATO officials.
In a statement to CNN last week, a NATO spokesperson said: “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.”
Russia’s invasion drove non-aligned Finland and Sweden to abandon their neutrality and seek protection within NATO, with Finland formally joining the bloc last month.
An office in Tokyo would be hugely consequential, as the war in Ukraine and deepening divisions within Asia have seen countries like Japan and South Korea draw closer to their Western partners – and present a united front against perceived threats closer to home, such as North Korea andChina.
China, which has previously warned against NATO expanding its reach into Asia or a similar bloc emerging in the region, has already responded angrily to previous reports on a possible 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 battles,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning in a briefing last week. “NATO’s eastward push and interference in Asia Pacific matters will definitely undermine regional peace and stability.”
Speaking to CNN on Wednesday, Hayashi said the opening of any NATO office was not intended to send a message “to any specific countries.”
However, he added, the security environment in Asia is becoming “more and more severe, and also complex” – and he highlighted China as “a greatest challenge for us.”
He also pointed to Russia as a neighbor to Japan, and the threat of a North Korean nuclear test, after months of warnings from observers that there is renewed activity at the test site.
Hayashi played down concerns that opening a Tokyo NATO office could further inflame tensions, saying: “I don’t feel that’s the case.”
The country has had a pacifist constitution since World War II – which he argued is reflected in this move.
“We are not offending anyone, we’re defending ourselves from any kind of interference and concerns, and in some cases threats,” he said. – CNN