The golden era of EU-Japan relations dawns

The golden era of EU-Japan relations dawns
Опубликовано: Monday, 13 February 2023 18:36

Brussels needs to keep its friends in the Indo-Pacific with truly compatible agendas close, particularly from a security point of view — and Japan is one of those allies.

Jean De Ruyt is a former Belgian diplomat and served as the permanent representative of Belgium to the European Union, NATO and the U.N. He was also the director general for political affairs at the Belgian Foreign Ministry.

2022 marked a fundamental change for Europe. Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine and the resurgence of traditional security dynamics brought about more transformation in the past year than in the previous three decades combined; the foundations upon which the post-Cold War balance was built were shaken; and many nations now face profound shifts, with security lying at the heart of the challenge.

The European Union and its institutions aren’t untested when it comes to facing such pivotal moments in history, but the quickening speed at which major world events are unfolding means the bloc needs to plan strategically for the long term. And while the war in Ukraine is, undoubtedly, the most worrisome threat in our immediate surroundings — one for which the EU and its allies mobilized in an unprecedented manner — it isn’t the only systemic challenge looming on the horizon.

Something is in motion beyond the borders of Europe.

The Indo-Pacific is an economic powerhouse of primary importance that is home to almost 60 percent of the world’s population, and the region’s growing economic, demographic and political weight has made it an influential player in international relations, as well as a necessary one in addressing global challenges.

The EU formalized its interest in the region in 2021, through the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, and as the bloc now seeks to pursue strategic autonomy, maintain and strengthen its political influence, and safeguard the democratic values upon which it was built, it needs to actively engage with the region. It also needs to keep its friends in the Indo-Pacific with truly compatible agendas close, particularly from a security point of view — and Japan is one of those allies.

Not only do the EU and Japan have common interests in the Asia-Pacific — not least when it comes to China — they also share fundamental values: democracy, human rights and a vision of the international system as a mechanism based on common rules rather than brute force.

Recently, China’s assertiveness, as well as the more frequent provocations by North Korea, has prompted Japan to put a new emphasis on maritime security, and Tokyo has been improving its defense capabilities accordingly. The country’s latest National Security Strategy outlines several relevant initiatives aimed at strengthening defense and ensuring the safety and openness of the Indo-Pacific, by expanding military cooperation and increasing the resilience of its cyber infrastructure.

Japan is eager to engage with like-minded partners on this front, and the EU should take notice. Japan’s diplomacy has been closely aligned with the G7, and it’s taking several steps to strengthen its relationship with NATO, as well as deepen its direct ties with Ukraine and its European neighbors.

Japan’s interests also significantly overlap with Europe’s vis-à-vis China. Compared to other countries involved in the region, the EU and Japan see China as both a worrisome competitor and a major trading partner — one whose cooperation will be fundamental in tackling the challenges of our time, climate change in particular.

Managing relations with China will thus come down to striking the right balance between cooperation and confrontation, dialogue and rivalry. It will require continuous interaction and effort on both sides. Or, in the words of a senior diplomat posted to the EU, “Russia is like a storm, China is like climate change.” And he could not have been more right.

Recent visits to Beijing by European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz testify precisely to the EU’s intention to keep the diplomatic door open. And Japan, being so geographically close and economically interconnected with the Middle Kingdom, faces the same challenge as the EU, in addition to more direct security concerns.

For this reason, we’re witnessing an increasing appetite for closer collaboration with Japan on the part of EU institutions, which suggests that we’re entering a golden age for EU-Japan relations.

To this end, in the span of just a few years, three major agreements were signed: the historic Economic Partnership Agreement, the EU-Japan Strategic Partnership agreement, and the Partnership on Sustainable Connectivity and Quality Infrastructure. Furthermore, reading through the Joint Declaration signed during the EU-Japan summit in May 2022, it’s possible to grasp just how wide our common ground is.

This is particularly when it comes to security and defending the values we stand for, and it includes the firm condemnation of Russia’s ruthless aggression, support to Ukraine and Taiwan, the will to ensure the Indo-Pacific’s maritime security, the commitment to a free and open cyberspace, and opposition to the testing of nuclear missiles by North Korea. Just last month, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Europe to pursue closer defense ties and a delegation of the European Parliament went to Tokyo to discuss cybersecurity.

This close relationship with Japan isn’t limited to just trade and security matters, however. It also includes Europe’s two most fundamental long-term priorities — digitalization and the green transition.

Through the EU-Japan Green Alliance and the Japan-EU Digital Partnership, the two parties have upscaled their collaboration in these fields. And thanks to this consolidated, common stance, it’ll be possible to encourage and support the rest of the world to pursue a fairer and faster digitalization and green transition — especially during the international community’s upcoming meetings like COP 28.

All these elements indicate that the coming years could represent a turning point for EU-Japan relations. It’s time to embrace a new, unprecedented closeness.

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