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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Justin McCurry in Tokyo and agencies

France opposed to opening of Nato liaison office in Japan, official says

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg. France does not support a suggestion to open a Nato liaison office in Japan, an official has said. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

France is unenthusiastic about a proposal for Nato to open a liaison office in Japan, an official has said, days after the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said the move would be a “big mistake”.

There have been suggestions, alluded to most recently by the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, that the organisation would open an office in Tokyo – its first in Asia – in response to the growing challenge posed by China and Russia.

Growing military cooperation between Beijing and Moscow in the Asia-Pacific was underlined on Tuesday when the Russian and Chinese militaries conducted joint patrols over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea, prompting South Korea and Japan to scramble fighter jets in response.

The patrols, which began in 2019 – before the current war in Ukraine and Beijing and Moscow declaring their “no-limits” partnership – are a result of long expanding bilateral ties built partly on a mutual sense of threat from the US and other military alliances.

Despite calls for Nato to work more closely with allies in north-east Asia, France is apparently reluctant to support anything that fuels tensions between the alliance and China.

“Nato [stands for] north Atlantic, and both article V and article VI [in its statutes] clearly limit the scope to north Atlantic,” a French official, who asked not to be named, said on Tuesday.

“There is no Nato liaison office in any country in the region. If Nato needs situational awareness in the region it can use the embassies designated as point of contact,” the official added, reacting to an article first published in the Financial Times.

Japan’s top government spokesperson, Hirokazu Matsuno, declined to comment on Macron’s reported remarks, saying only that “various considerations” were under way inside Nato.

Opening an office in Japan would require the unanimous approval of the North Atlantic Council, where France could use its veto to scupper the plan, according to the Kyodo news agency.

Beijing has reacted angrily to the proposal for a liaison office in Japan, first reported last month.

“Asia lies beyond the geographical scope of the North Atlantic,” Wang Wenbin, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said in response to the FT report, according to Kyodo.

“However, we have seen Nato bent on going east into this region, interfering in regional affairs and inciting bloc confrontation.”

He said Japan should make the “right call” and refrain from doing anything that “undermines mutual trust between regional countries and peace and stability in the region”.

Nato, originally designed as a transatlantic security organisation against the Soviet-era Communist bloc, is attempting to define its role in the face of a rising China, while also supporting Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

Stoltenberg said last week that “what happens in Asia matters for Europe and what happens in Europe matters for Asia, and therefore it is even more important that Nato allies are strengthening our partnership with our Indo Pacific partners.”

Without saying specifically where, he noted there had been a “request” to have a Nato liaison office “and we’re looking into the possibility of establishing the office.”

The FT said Macron had personally objected to the idea. At a conference last week, he warned that expanding Nato’s geography would be a “big mistake”.

French officials are also unhappy that the issue appeared in the press before there were full consultations between Nato members.

Macron earlier this year made a high-profile state visit to boost relations with China under president Xi Jinping, controversially suggesting afterwards that Europe should keep a distance from China-US tensions over Taiwan.

With Agence France-Presse

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