Germany and Japan underline mutual interests in Tokyo – DW – 18/03/2023

Tokyo Haneda Airport, Saturday, early afternoon. It’s raining buckets from the sky. One by one, after a 12.5 hour non-stop flight in Germany’s brand new “Konrad Adenauer” government jet, members of the German cabinet descend the stairs and are welcomed on the red carpet by officials holding dripping wet umbrellas in the colors of the German flag.

The actions of Robert Habeck, Boris Pistorius, Volker Wissing, Christian Lindner, Nancy Faeser and Annalena Baerbock – the ministers of economy and climate, defence, transport, finance, home affairs and foreign policy respectively – show that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz highest delegation he could.

Berlin and Tokyo to diversify the ties, says DW’s Nina Haase

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For Germany, Asia has long meant China

That’s no coincidence. It is a conscious gesture of respect for Japan, a country that is becoming increasingly important to the German government. That was not always the case. When previous German governments talked about Asia for a long time, they meant China.

That has changed dramatically, not least since Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Japan condemned the war very early on and adopted Western sanctions against Russia, an important signal from a country that acted differently in 2014 after its invasion of Crimea.

The ministers are led into cars and the German motorcade hurtles through the rain through Tokyo’s city center – again, you might say.

It has been barely 11 months since the Chancellor was last here. In April 2022, just a few months after taking office, Scholz embarked on his first trip to Asia – making it a point to visit Japan instead of China, as his predecessors Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel had done. Russia’s war against Ukraine marked the beginning of a major rethinking of German foreign and security policy, highlighting the need to reduce the country’s dependence not only on Russia, but also on China.

In the Japanese government, Scholz quickly identified partners facing the same challenge: the need to diversify. Disengaging from China is not an option for either of them, both governments have consistently said. But the COVID pandemic, and especially the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has exposed the vulnerabilities that come from unilateral dependencies. And so, in 2022, Germany and Japan agreed to schedule bilateral intergovernmental consultations to deepen their cooperation – with an emphasis on economic security.

The leaders have many interests and concerns in commonImage: Nicolas Datiche/REUTERS

First-ever legal framework for defense cooperation

Central Tokyo. The German chancellor arrives at Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s residence to be greeted with military honors. As the two men hold talks, the other German cabinet members discuss the details of planned collaborations with their respective counterparts. Boris Pistorius will later emphasize that he is the first German defense minister to come to Japan in 16 years. His task here is to discuss a possible new legal framework for defense cooperation with Minister Yasukazu Hamada.

The Indo-Pacific region is the region of Japan, but it is also important for Germany. German government officials say it was valued here when the German frigate “Bayern” came to Japan in 2022. The same applied to the decision to have Eurofighters make a stopover in Japan at the end of 2022 on their way to Australia. symbolic occasions, but showing that you have strong partners in other parts of the world is becoming increasingly important. And Japan and Germany want to do more of that in the future.

Scholz took key members of his cabinet to address their colleaguesImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/photo alliance

Fight against the climate crisis, energy security, geopolitical security

Then it gets hectic when ministers finally arrive at the Prime Minister’s for the so-called family photo. After a 90-minute plenary discussion behind closed doors, Scholz and Kishida address the press, underlining their partnership and mutual gratitude.

And it becomes clear once again that these two countries have recognized that they share not only values, but increasingly economic and strategic interests. Cooperation needs to be intensified in many areas: the fight against the climate crisis, food security, cybersecurity, telecommunications and others.

Turning to the overarching topic of the talks, economic security, the Japanese-German communiqué says the two countries will work together to acquire essential minerals, which are considered vital to reducing dependence on China.

The two governments had much to discussImage: Masaki Furumaya/AP Photo/Photo Alliance

The German government will be joined by a business delegation in Tokyo this weekend. Scholz says he hopes the closer collaboration between relevant agencies — such as Japan’s Organization for Metals and Energy Security and Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources — will give companies a better idea of ​​where to invest in projects.

And on geopolitical security, the German chancellor is using the joint podium in Tokyo to thank Japan once again for condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Japan supports the attitude of the so-called West towards Russia and Ukraine. If Vladimir Putin gets away with his aggression in Ukraine, Japan fears that East Asia will be the next region to be destabilised, and that China, like Russia did in Ukraine, could push its own interests in the region through military means.

Rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea are all happening at Japan’s doorstep. At the press conference, neither leader believes it is necessary to mention China directly. Both leaders reiterate that the geopolitical status quo must not be changed by force. The German Chancellor has repeatedly said that the Russian war in Ukraine is not just a European affair. He seems to have found partners in the Japanese who really agree with him.

The German delegation will leave Japan again on Sunday morning. But Olaf Scholz won’t be gone for long – he’s expected back in Japan in May for the G7 summit in Hiroshima.

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