Paris’ reluctance to greenlight Tokyo office has reportedly “complicated months of discussion” in the US-led military bloc
French President Emmanuel Macron has refused to approve a scheme to open a NATO liaison office in Japan, arguing the organization should not extend itself beyond the North Atlantic, the Financial Times reported.
Macron’s opposition to the new facility planned for Tokyo, which would be NATO’s first such office in Asia, has resulted in a monthslong deadlock within the bloc, eight sources familiar with the talks told FT on Monday.
Opening a liaison center in Japan would require unanimous consent from NATO’s North Atlantic Council, meaning Paris has the ability to scuttle the proposal. According to one of the sources reached by the Financial Times, Macron believes the body’s charter imposes geographic limitations which bar NATO from expanding into Asia.
At a conference last week, the president reportedly warned that pushing NATO to enlarge its “spectrum and the geography” would be “a big mistake.”
Another unnamed source told the outlet that Paris is unwilling to support any policy that “contributes to NATO-China tension,” as Beijing has already made its misgivings known about the proposed liaison office.
Last month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said NATO should remain within its own sphere of influence and not seek to grow its presence in Asia, arguing the region “does not welcome bloc confrontation or military blocs.”
The scheme has been discussed intermittently since 2007, when Japan’s then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first visited NATO’s headquarters, and was raised again in recent months. Tokyo has steadily increased its cooperation with the bloc over the years, opening its first NATO branch office in Brussels in 2018, while Prime Minister Fumio Kishida became the first Japanese leader to attend a NATO summit last year.
The US-led military collective maintains more than a dozen liaison centers around the globe, most serving as basic contact points with officials from non-member states. Though NATO has not outlined its plans for Tokyo in detail, that office will reportedly serve a similar function, and would have only a small staff.
Though Japan has said it is still in discussions to open the office, Kishida recently noted that no final decision had been made on the move, also claiming that Tokyo has no interest in joining NATO despite the stepped-up interaction over the last several years.