Overview of the Years 2017-2019 and View of Europe
The two articles in this Special Forum cover Abe’s foreign policy focused on Europe—the foundation for a substantial success strongly supported by the United States- and the three-year period from 2017 to 2019. This time span proved critical to establishing the Abe legacy in managing foreign relations. It was a complicated time of Donald Trump’s tenure when North Korea stole the limelight and Sino-Russian relations tightened, leaving Abe groping for great power relevance. He overreached with Russia and China, was marginalized over North Korea and lashed out at South Korea, but the main legacy he left was to push the US toward an Indo-Pacific framework.
Gilbert Rozman, “Japanese Thinking toward the Indo-Pacific, 2017-2019”
Abe Shinzo began his second stint as prime minister with two contradictory images: a realist intent on boosting Japan’s clout in great power security maneuvering rapidly spreading through the Indo-Pacific; and a nationalist determined to put national interests aside in order to put an end to apology diplomacy. By his final year in office, he was again drawing attention for two contradictory images: the closest ally of the United States, cooperating closely on security in the Indo-Pacific region; and an autonomous player in building good personal relations with both sides of a new cold war divide.
The struggle over the direction of Japanese diplomacy at this critical juncture played out at the level of Abe’s advisors. On August 30 Yomiuri wrote about the rise of Imai Takaya as Abe’s main foreign policy advisor after Imai had orchestrated the 2017 shift to China centering on cooperation with BRI in accord with strong interests in the business community. Yachi Shotaro, the actual national security advisor, and others focusing on security or diplomacy feared that this would have a bad impact on security cooperation with the US and India and boost China’s economic power aimed at expanding hegemony. They preferred strengthening the Quad. Abe sided with Imai and sent him with Nikai Toshihiro to the May 2017 BRI conference. Later Imai won in a struggle over whether to boost joint economic activities on the islands held by Russia before progress was made on their return, arousing dissatisfaction that Imai only listens to the other country’s position, seeking short-term results at the cost of a long-term vision. Yomiuri appeared to be siding with Yachi, not Imai or Abe of late. Asahi on September 13 raised questions about the appointment of Kitamura Shigeru as head of the NSS, replacing Yachi, who was already 75.
Yachi was viewed as critical of Abe’s moves toward Russia, China, and North Korea, leading to the 2017 shift to Imai, who wrote in Bungei Shunju in June 2018 that he and Yachi had been at odds over deepening joint economic activity with Russia even more than over BRI. Asahi added that under Yachi the NSS paid little heed to the abductee issue, and that Abe aims to resolve the lingering postwar issues with Russia and North Korea, reorganizing the NSS with new economic responsibilities and further strengthening the Kantei. The article concluded with warnings of alienation in Japan’s foreign ministry as the NSS is now moving from policy to politics.
Hopes were placed on Sino-Japanese summitry in 2018 to mark the 40th anniversary of their bilateral peace treaty. Optimism was stoked by the visits of LDP leader Nikai and Komeito leader Inoue to meet with top Chinese officials and plans for Abe and Xi to exchange visits. Nikai was seen as having special rapport with China and the Komeito as a political party that from the 1970s had stressed ties with China. They carried letters from Abe.
In contrast, Asahi on May 5 feared that the government under the influence of Aso Taro was still too hostile to China to proceed with new opportunities, which were being pushed forward by Nikai. In an exchange between Nikai, Abe’s “pipe” to improve ties with China, and Cheng Yonghua, the outgoing Chinese ambassador, both saw goodwill and exchanges as vital for a new era. On May 1 Yomiuri reported on Nikai’s second visit to a BRI forum and Xi’s statement that bilateral relations have returned to a normal track. It noted that Abe had tempered warnings about China due to concern about Trump and optimism about Xi’s change of direction toward Abe, while Japan needs China’s market. Yet, the paper warned that there is still a need to be on guard over digital data and maritime military tensions. For Kawashima Shin, relations had only returned to “zero”; a consciousness gap existed on territory and security. The debate on China in 2018 had risen to a feverish pitch.
In the background were new hints of Japanese willingness to cooperate with China on economic projects such as BRI, but conditions were attached too. Nikai’s support for BRI helped to broaden its appeal, gave Japanese reason to think it could be revised to follow international norms, and demonstrated Japan’s willingness to act independently of the US. Japan’s shift toward BRI in 2017 was seen as a turning point as was the Chinese response to rising Sino-US trade frictions, building momentum into 2019. Xi had agreed to pay a state visit to Japan in 2020, which Asahi on June 29 called a step toward a “new era.” It added that Japan, a country of peace, can assume a new role between the US and China, dissuading the US from “America First.” This idea had invigorated Japan’s left, as if in the Sino-US trade dispute, Japan’s importance had risen again. If the US is using heavy pressure to get China to alter its economic model, Japan as seeking similar goals softly, offering its positive participation in BRI plans. After Trump echoed Abe’s FOIP concept, Abe softened his support, stating that this was not a “strategy” after all and that China could someday participate, stepping back from Sino-US tensions.
Yomiuri covered Abe’s ambivalence in improving ties to China but countering the risk to security, as in the conversion of the Izumo into an aircraft carrier to accommodate F-35B planes, which Chinese media criticized as the Izumo joined the Ronald Reagan in maritime exercises in the South China Sea. On Huawei and ZTE 5G technology, Japan had been firm in excluding them. Many saw China moving to forge a world order with itself at the center, e.g., with 5G at stake, and charged that Nikai’s positive outlook on BRI sent the wrong message. potentially a second case of failure similar to post-1989.
While the years 2017-19 are generally seen as an Abe-Trump “honeymoon,” the infighting inside the Japanese government over China and Russia policy demonstrates ambiguity over an autonomous foreign policy toward the great powers in Asia at a time of growing Sino-US and Russo-US tensions. Taiwan became another sensitive issue, when signs of Trump offering more backing to it were mostly welcome even if warnings were raised about his lack of understanding of the ways stability had been maintained. The backdrop was deepening ties between Japan and Taiwan, a year after Tsai Ing-Wen took office amid rising Japanese hopes that cooperation would advance further. The Democratic Progressive Party had consistently been more pro-Japan, expecting improved ties in the area of security, but also affirming shared values, as voiced by Tsai in October 2015 when she visited Japan and was greeted by Kishi Nobuo, Abe’s brother. Economic ties were close, opinion in Taiwan favored Japan the most, young people as well as economic and political elites had a strong affinity, tourism was booming, and now values and security were raising expectations. Tsai and Abe did not need to meet to solidify this atmosphere. Yet in hopes of boosting ties with Xi, Abe to 2020 remained wary of siding firmly with the US on a more pro-Taiwan policy.
In 2017-19 Abe’s legacy was determined under a rapidly changing regional environment. Was it to be reassertion of Japan’s great power standing or reconciliation to being a middle power? Was it to be an autonomous foreign policy able to maneuver among the increasingly antagonistic great powers of China, Russia, and the United States or a subordinate role in a US-led alliance with little autonomy? Finally, was his legacy to be construction of a distinct national identity steeped in history or tight solidarity with the liberal democratic camp? Amid wavering between these choices, the outcome was becoming clearer as the decade of the 2010s neared its completion.
In 2017 Abe strove mightily to revive his momentum, cozying up to Trump as no other ally did and pursuing a breakthrough with Xi Jinping, which he confidently insisted he was achieving with Putin. Yet, the results fell short, only to be followed by marginalization in 2018. The year 2019 saw Abe press for renewed relevance on numerous fronts, invigorating personal diplomacy. If on Asia’s southern front, he had some success dependent on Trump’s inconsistent interest, to the north Abe’s main accomplishment was revenge against Moon Jae-in. Year by year, Abe had overreached; even so, paradoxically he had left a foundation for a more modest, realistic foreign policy in support of a more strategic US.
The dynamics of Japanese foreign policy changed abruptly from year to year despite constant insistence that the Japan-US alliance was stronger than ever. 2017 brought upbeat assurances that Japan was in the driver’s seat, showing leadership and advancing diplomacy in all directions. 2018, however, saw the low point of the Abe era, as marginalization was barely concealed by repeated bravado. The year 2019 appeared to point to the resurgence of Japanese leadership, but it was undermined by both murky pretenses and pique, neither coordinated with the US.
Abe ended 2017 confident in Japan-US relations, mostly upbeat about ties to Russia and China, and making headway in diverse ties from India to Taiwan. Of immediate concern were both sides of the Korean Peninsula, but the new Security Council sanctions resolution at the end of 2017 was appreciated. Despite the façade of successful personal chemistry with nearly all leaders active in the region, Abe faced an annus horribilis in the glare of diplomacy over the Korean Peninsula, Sino-Russian solidarity, and Trump’s unilateral trade war and threats. Riding a crest of confidence at the end of 2017 that he was steering Trump toward a long-desired Indo-Pacific strategic agenda and in sync with Trump’s “fire and fury” warnings to intensify sanctions on North Korea, as his foremost great power ally, Abe cringed in 2018 at how little Japan could do on either the security or trade fronts in new conditions.
Not only was there disappointment at Trump’s unilateralism and “America First,” but there was alarm at the risk to Japan and the world from the US-China trade war. On history, Japan was more isolated after Seoul reneged on a deal and Moscow hardened on the war’s outcome. On geopolitics, North Korean diplomacy left Japan feeling alone. And now on economics, a double whammy came from direct pressure exerted by Trump and indirect pressure through his looming trade war with China. If the progressive camp’s idealism about peace-seeking diplomacy was reviving, conservatives were left aghast.
If 2017 saw Japanese hopes rise that Abe could ride the rollercoaster of great power maneuvering on the coattails of Trump but with multidirectional diplomacy and 2018 saw hopes fall as diplomacy bypassed Japan, the year 2019 brought renewed energy that despite far-reaching shifts in the region Abe could reinvigorate personal summitry. Yet, behind the façade of Abe’s apparent successes, the reality was becoming harder to miss. If sobering up would wait until 2020, 2019 would be a year of testing the limits.
After setbacks to Japanese diplomacy in 2018, Abe came roaring back with projections of major achievements in 2019. A sigh of relief was heard after the Hanoi summit. This reassurance proved to be a jumping off point for bold plans to assert Japanese leadership, which reached their pinnacle over the summer. If in 2018 the divide between Tokyo and Washington was expressed mainly in the former’s unease, in 2019 it was manifest best in Abe’s autonomous moves toward Beijing, Moscow, and Seoul. By year’s end hopes that Japan could seize the initiative were, however, fading fast.
Over three years before diplomacy quieted in 2020 as Abe’s resignation drew near, Japanese foreign policy in Asia peaked in 2017 in partnership with the US, was left marginalized in 2018 as diplomacy swirled around North Korea and struggled to find room for autonomy in 2019 as tensions were mounting. Each year Japan’s options rested on US policies and US-Japan relations, as China and its relations with Russia, North Korea, and Asia’s southern tiers had a decisive impact as well. Abe did better in 2017 when he seemed to be on the same wavelength as Trump, worse in 2018 when Trump ignored his consul, and only slightly better in 2019 when Trump was uncontrollable but often in alignment with Japan in Asia or inattentive to Abe’s own initiatives. In 2019, Abe also took hope for Xi Jinping’s increased interest in Japan, even if few were optimistic that was more than a tactical move with no lasting value.
Four short-term phenomena obscured Japan’s foreign policy drift in the late 2010s: Trump’s distortion of US policy, Xi’s decision to improve ties to Japan; Putin’s reluctance to shut down diplomacy as long as Abe was wooing him; and Kim Jong-un’s willingness to test diplomacy. By the end of 2019, it was possible to look beyond these forces. The Abe legacy would outlive Trump and reinforce US Asian policy more fully. It would survive the deterioration in Sino-Japanese relations because Abe had built a foundation to do so. As for Russia, an about-face would be needed, and for South Korea the challenge would be even more complicated. Abe’s autonomous moves over three years proved to have mixed results: keeping the US on track but also raising false hopes that Japan could operate as a great power well beyond its capabilities.
Most conspicuous in policies challenging China was Abe’s support for FOIP and energetic diplomacy in Asia’s southern tier, including efforts to reinvigorate US ties there. Trump’s November 2017 speech in Danang echoed Abe’s rhetoric, endorsing security regionalism if still lacking focus on economic regionalism.
Trump had hardened the US position on the South China Sea, which some attributed to China not being sufficiently cooperative on North Korea. Yet, China’s advancing position there and the insufficiency of the US response still rankled. The decline in US involvement in ASEAN issues meant that states were expecting Japan to fill the vacuum, The primary message was that Abe recognized the challenge and was doing all he could but making only modest headway with Trump despite increased US freedom of navigation exercises.
In the January 2018 Toa Daigi Seima wrote about the Trump administration’s “Indo-Pacific” strategy, arguing that Trump’s Danang embrace of the concept, had replaced the old US notion of the “Asia-Pacific region.” He said that Abe had a big influence, having articulated this strategy in August 2016. The message was that Japan also had picked up the mantle of TPP, forging a bridge awaiting US rethinking and heading off China’s economic circle.
As tensions over the South China Sea heated up, many in ASEAN made clearer their concern about China’s militarization of the sea. If some in the US, including think tanks, were alert to the danger, the US response lagged, at least until the 2018 Shangri-La dialogue after Xi Jinping broke his 2015 assurance to Obama not to militarize the islands. Abe continued to press his initiative for the “free and open Indo-Pacific.” In November he went first to Singapore for summits with ASEAN and then to Australia, trying to fill the gap in US leadership and to invigorate multilateral security ties.
Abe’s unabashed resort to personal chemistry to bring about transformative relationships ranged from Narendra Modi to Vladimir Putin to Donald Trump. All three are strong advocates of great power autonomy and civilizational identities, which Abe covets without having a comparable mechanism to propagate and inculcate. Abe did not have similar personal closeness with Barack Obama or Modi’s predecessors although he was eager for close bilateral ties. In particular, Modi opens the door to Asianism with both multipolarity and a values component since India is not only a democracy hesitant about US values diplomacy, but also a country close to Japan as the origin of Buddhism and the home of a judge who voted against the verdicts of the Tokyo Tribunal or others who considered Japan in war a liberator in Asia.
Abe’s September 2017 visit to India reinforced the image of a special bond between him and Modi, as Japan and the US were joining in appealing for a new regional framework. Although India was part of BRICS, its relations with China were of little concern, considering its hostility to BRI and border military tensions. On September 15 Asahi wrote that the “Japan-India new era” has leaped ahead, boosted by the planned construction of a 500km-long high-speed railroad between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Conservatives were even more effusive in using the word “honeymoon” for Abe-Modi ties and for insisting that the interests of Japan and India are the same in maritime security and countering China, as India is being surrounded by China’s port construction. Aspirations outpaced results, however, amid talk of India’s standing at the crossroads of East and West. Still, India shined as another feather in Abe’s cap.
The April 27 Wuhan summit between Xi and Modi was seen as a thaw in a relationship marred by a territorial dispute and a divide over the BRI. Not only did Modi go to China, but he planned to go for the Qingdao SCO summit and the Fujian BRICS summit, making three visits in half a year. This intensity is attributed to Xi’s desire to stabilize ties to neighboring states in the wake of tensions with Trump and to Modi’s hope to accelerate economic growth through greater Chinese investment. It was said that China was courting not only Japan but also India, exposing gaps in thinking about China among the Quad and the urgency for Trump to forge a concrete security policy for India beyond the vague concept of the “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The October 2018 Abe-Modi summit, coming shortly after Abe’s visit to China, showcased shared values and criticism of China’s maritime advances. Also noted was Japan’s assistance for a 500 km high-speed railway linking Mumbai and Ahmedabad and cooperation seen as important for Japan’s economic development. Closer security cooperation included a new 2+2 format. The Modi visit countered any impression that Abe was quickly drawing closer to China as well as that Modi would do so.
Rising momentum for the FOIP gave a lifeline to Abe when other directions were blocked. His interest in Southeast Asia did not flag, his quest for US cooperation on security and economics in Asia’s southern tier persisted in the face of Trump’s wavering attention, and his priority for triangular ties to Australia and the US brought dividends as Australians soured on China. If Trump was inconsistent, US officials were looking to work closely with Abe.
Brad Glosserman, “Japan and Europe: A Marriage of Convenience Matures”
A region once deemed irretrievably distant from Japan is an increasingly integral part of Tokyo’s strategic calculations. This change reflects the proliferation of capabilities that allow ever more far-flung engagement among like-minded nations. More importantly, credit the convergence of views among Japan and its European partners about the chief security threat of the 21st century—the rise of China and its desire to revise the international order—and concomitant doubts about the capacity of the United States to manage that challenge on its own. Abe played a key role in this evolution. He identified NATO as a key partner during his first term as prime minister and the security policy reforms passed during his historical second term in office provided the framework for enhanced cooperation with Europe. Glosserman tracks the convergence in security policy between Japan and Europe, examining both the rationale behind Japanese thinking and the limits on future cooperation.
From the perspective of evaluating Japanese diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific over the ten years from 2012 to 2022, drawing NATO, the European Union, and the European powers into a shared framework should be recognized as a major success. This was sought by the United States, made possible by China’s alienation of Europe, and accelerated by Russia’s launch of a war in Ukraine. Yet, critical to the transformation was Japan’s own reconceptualization of its security environment and how to respond.
To 2011, security cooperation and dialogue with Europe had yet to be established as one of the pillars of Japan’s foreign and security policy with the relationship being mostly a history of trade disputes. Abe aimed to fix that, seen in a joint political declaration on April 15, 2013, which repeated the claim that security was indivisible. In 2014 an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program laid out a commitment to promote practical cooperation in nine areas. Japan and NATO held their first joint naval exercise in September 2014, and in 2018 revising their PCP agreement, reflecting the rise of China and including a new emphasis on maintaining and strengthening “a free and open international order based on the rule of law” and on information sharing. The new version discussed “participation in each other’s exercises”: previously it had only mentioned Japan’s participation in NATO exercises. By 2019, one analyst concluded that the Japan-NATO relationship had “flowered,” as a result of “a solidifying of common values, a deepening understanding by each party of the mutual relevance of revisionist powers in their respective regions, and a greater concurrence between Japan and NATO’s strategic orientations.”
In addition to working with NATO, Japan has also pursued cooperation with individual European countries. It has signed acquisition and cross-servicing agreements and information security agreements, as well as joined military exercises and operations with European militaries in the Indo-Pacific region. In September 2021, Japan and Great Britain announced that they would begin negotiations on a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) that would reciprocally improve policy, legal, and administrative procedures for joint operations, exercises, and activities between the armed forces of both countries. In 2022, British officials underscored their government’s continuing commitment to the Indo-Pacific, rejecting “the false choice between Euro-Atlantic security and Indo-Pacific security” in favor of “a global NATO,” to help “democracies like Taiwan … defend themselves.” Japan and the UK agreed on the broad principles of the RAA during Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to London in May 2022. Finally, the two continued to pursue joint weapons development. In August they were reportedly planning to merge plans for their next-generation fighter and jointly develop a fuselage for common use. An optimistic analysis in 2018 labeled the relationship a “quasi alliance.” A more judicious assessment concluded in 2020 that “the two countries have come a long way in a fairly short period of time and hold the promise of continued future growth.”
At their fifth 2+2 Meeting and the Defense Ministerial Meeting in January 2019, Japan and France established the Comprehensive Maritime Dialogue to promote cooperation. That agreement bore fruit the following year when the Destroyer JS Hyuga and supply ship Hamana participated in a Japan-France-US exercise in December 2020 and again in February 2021. Germany is Japan’s third major European partner, sharing sensitivity about a higher profile in security affairs given their role in World War II and the resulting tensions engendered by their economic successes. In July 2017, an Agreement concerning the Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology went into effect. In July 2022, they agreed to enhance joint response capabilities against the backdrop of China’s military buildup in the Indo-Pacific. For all the progress, an alliance specialist highlighted “very real impediments that may limit progress and future growth.”
The most important effort to institutionalize cooperation between Japan and the European Union is the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA). Negotiations were launched in 2013, with the SPA serving as the political/security counterpart to the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. The pact entered into force in 2019 and reflects “ambitious plans” for cooperation in international politics and security. The EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, published in September 2021 sets out its framework for broader engagement in the region; in the strategy, “the EU demonstrated clearly that it views Japan as a key partner.”
Japan and Europe have been building closer ties for decades; the trajectory has not changed. But the invasion of Ukraine has had a profound impact on thinking throughout the continent and in Tokyo. Strategists now recognize that the global order that has been taken for granted since the end of the Cold War is imperiled. Revisionist powers seek to rewrite the status quo, and they are prepared to go beyond gray zone provocations and redraw borders by force. Not only must concerned governments do more to prepare their own defenses but they must also cooperate and coordinate more closely with like-minded nations to deter such challenges. As Hayashi told NATO during its April meeting, “it is not possible to speak about the security of Europe and the Indo-Pacific region separately … unilateral changes to the status quo by force are unforgivable no matter the region and … it is vitally important to maintain and develop the international order based on universal values in all regions for global peace and stability.”
While the Japan-Europe security relationship took form more than 40 years ago, and has intensified since the invasion of Ukraine, Abe deserves credit for recognizing its potential, laying the groundwork that makes recent developments possible, although Beijing deserves the real credit for turning European thinking and policy in a more antagonistic direction. Tokyo has long argued that Beijing was a revisionist power that threatened the global order. Europe has become increasingly receptive to that message, the result of Chinese efforts to pressure EU member countries (and others) to be more amenable toward its policies and preferences and, when that failed, to engage in coercion. At its 2021 summit, NATO first explicitly identified China as a “systemic challenge,” a description repeated in the 2022 Strategic Concept, which declares that China’s “stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.”
Japan’s quest for international credibility and support for its concerns requires it to demonstrate that it takes those threats seriously as well. Just as NATO member countries are obliged to increase their defense spending in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, so too must Japan boost its defense budget. Alarms about a revisionist China will not be believed if Japan is not prepared to spend money and make efforts necessary to defend itself. While this helps build credibility with European partners and demonstrates international solidarity, it also helps persuade domestic audiences, who have long been skeptical of politicians who call for increased spending.
While expectations of what NATO will do in an Indo-Pacific crisis remain limited—its primary concern will remain the European theater—it can still shape security in the region. China must be sensitive about going too far and triggering NATO’s Strategic Concept. Ambiguity about when NATO could be involved introduces uncertainty.
Working with NATO is another venue where Tokyo can work with Washington. Since the US is a core partner of the trans-Atlantic alliance, Japan-NATO cooperation is, at some level, another form of Japan-US cooperation. Recall that several Japan-US bilateral declarations endorsed expanding Japan-NATO cooperation. This fostered a recognition in Japan that its relationship with NATO was essentially the European front of a global US-Japan alliance.
Working with the EU allows Japan to promote and provide other forms of security cooperation. The EU has historically emphasized soft power and a type of crisis management that is very different from that practiced by the US. Its approach emphasizes civilian elements, an outlook that Japan too has traditionally favored. “There are instances where cooperation with the EU is more effective than cooperation with the US in realizing Japan’s specific policy objectives … precisely because the EU’s approaches and actions differ from the US.” This allows Tokyo to differentiate its work and approach from that of Washington when necessary. But, analysts insist, “cooperation with the EU and cooperation with the US are complementary, not contradictory.”
Working with NATO (and the EU) has also helped educate Japan on multilateral security cooperation. There is no comparable mechanism in the Indo-Pacific. Working with NATO can help Japan learn how to facilitate multilateral cooperation. The particulars of that effort could include preparation for and holding of multinational exercises, training and operations, as well as ways to create interoperability among diverse militaries.
A final reason to work with NATO is the prospect of invigorating national defense industries. Economies of scale are essential to the survival of any such domestic industry and international collaboration is a vital part of modern defense production. Japan has acknowledged the weaknesses of its defense industries. While the US is considered the priority partner, Japan is working with European countries as well to ensure that it stays at the cutting-edge of the defense industry.
The convergence of Japanese and European security policies is not happenstance. After the conclusion of the Cold War, Japan better recognized Europe’s value as a contributor to global security and as a potential partner. The alignment of interests and outlooks was consolidated and accelerated by Abe’s desire to raise his country’s international security profile and the recognition that Europe could buttress Tokyo’s concerns and policy preferences. Worries about US policy reinforced Japan’s inclination to reach out to other security partners. Europe was driven by similar motivations. China did its part by adopting a more aggressive foreign policy, confirming the views of hawks in capitals around the world that Beijing was a revisionist force in international politics. The once shrill claim that security was “indivisible” has become more credible and more widely accepted.
The question is how much farther cooperation can go. The two can and will continue to make the same calls to respect the existing international order. They will continue to train and exercise together. Defense industrial cooperation will continue and likely grow. But distance will continue to intrude on their relationship. Europe’s first priority will remain the defense of Europe, just as Japan’s will be that of western Pacific and the wider Indo-Pacific region. There will be some overlap in the Western Indian Ocean, but operational contingencies are unlikely to overlap. As poles of the global economy and centers of diplomatic power, Japan and Europe should be partners. But geography and the constraints on the exercise of their power will encourage both to be judicious about relying on the other.
When the Ukraine war occurred, success in laying the groundwork for Japan-Europe strategic coordination was demonstrated. Both the Biden administration’s strong leadership to strengthen three-way measures, such as on sanctions and assistance, and China’s worrisome support for a war of aggression have contributed to how Japan could build on the Abe legacy. These two external forces will be critical in determining Japan’s further advances with Europe.