EU Rapidly Fortifying Relations with Japan

REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
Flags of Ukraine fly in front of the EU Parliament building on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, in Brussels, Belgium, February 24, 2023.

BRUSSELS — The European Union is rapidly stepping up its defense, security and economic ties with Japan with an eye on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and China’s increasingly hegemonic activities.

“In view o unprecedented challenges to peace and security, we agree to develop a security partnership,” says a draft EU-Japan joint statement to be released at a summit meeting scheduled for July 13 in Brussels. The draft sets out plans to bolster the EU-Japan security partnership in light of the threats posed by Beijing and Moscow.

The draft notes, “We remain seriously concerned about the situation” in the East and South China Seas, where China continues to make unilateral maritime advances. The draft document also presents measures to strengthen maritime security, such as by holding joint exercises in the Indo-Pacific and enhancing Southeast Asian countries’ marine vigilance.

On the issue of economic security, Japan and the EU will work together to reduce dependence on China for key commodities, including cutting-edge semiconductors. The EU also is considering formulating a document for a new Japan-EU strategic partnership that focuses on security, crafting measures based on the statement slated for July release.

The draft also proposes cooperation in a wide range of economic sectors, such as the development and market expansion of hydrogen technology, and implementing safety measures to lay underwater cables linking Europe, Japan and Southeast Asia.

In the wake of Russia’s invasions of Ukraine, there is a growing sense of crisis in Europe regarding economic damage if a contingency occurs in Taiwan, in addition to concerns over economic dependence on such countries as China.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has defined “de-risking” as the EU’s basic strategy based on reducing the bloc’s dependence on China for critical goods and has repeatedly called for stronger ties with East Asian democracies. Von der Leyen held phone talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in March and June and has increasingly been emphasizing the EU-Japan partnership with regard to China- and Indo-Pacific-related strategies.

The EU’s closeness with Japan on the security front may make China more wary. Some EU member states — particularly France — are relatively unaware of the problems in East Asia, and remain eager to expand trade with China. It seems such nations have a genuine desire to avoid getting too deeply involved in the security of the Indo-Pacific region.