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Event report: EU-Japan – How to Move Forward

5 March 2015

The EU and Japan have enormous potential to deepen their relations agreed a panel of experts at an EU-Asia Centre event on 4 March. In his opening remarks Ambassador Katamaki said that despite the geographical distance and differences between EU and Japan, they were essentially two like-minded actors, sharing values and cooperating on a range of issues from East Asian security to Ukraine. The two sides were now negotiating new trade and political agreements to take this cooperation to new levels.

Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre, agreed that it was vital that the FTA and SPA negotiations were concluded this year in order to inject some much needed momentum into the relationship. It was inevitable that each side was pre-occupied with its neighbourhood but, as like-minded actors, the EU and Japan could be working much more closely together in a range of issue in the security field (proliferation, cyber- crime, terrorism, etc) as well as economic and social issues such as innovation, ageing societies, health, robotics, low carbon technologies, urban transport and energy security. With Abe secure in power for four years and a new EU leadership in situ the time was ripe to move the relationship to a new level. A link to Fraser Cameron’s background note is here.

Luis Simon, Professor, VUB, Brussels, asked whether the EU should engage in East Asia and how did Japan and the EU matter to each other. The Ukraine crisis seemed to reinforce the idea that the EU has little political will and capability to deal with global security issues. So why engage in Asia? The answer is that the EU has major economic and security interest in the region. Japan was a good entry point for EU in understanding Asia. One area where the two sides could significantly increase cooperation, military and non-military, was the Indian Ocean. Closer security cooperation would also bring economic benefits e.g. arms sales. Each side also had to understand the strategic importance of the US pivot to Asia.

Yoshihide Soeya, Professor, Keio University, Tokyo, said that the EU-Japan agenda was overloaded so the need was to prioritise and implement commitments. Just talking about common values was a cliché.  The world was witnessing a striking trend against the mainstream actors in politics. There was a common thread running through the crises in Ukraine, Greece and ISIS. The US-dominated post 1945 world was under challenge. China has benefited enormously from this order but was now challenging it in certain areas. It was not clear what Beijing meant with its idea of a new model of great power relations. China wanted to reassert its dominant role in the region and see the US withdraw. But no one could predict the timeframe. The EU and Japan had slightly different perspectives in China. But what was important was to maintain the liberal international order that had served the world well for several decades. There could be a role for the EU in NE Asia but what was important was to begin discussions on scenarios for the future of the Korean peninsula. Although political relations at the highest level between Japan and Korea remained strained there was little sign of animosity between the people.

Michael Reiterer, Principal Advisor on Asia, EEAS, likened the EU-Japan agenda to a Xmas tree approach. Everything was there but there were no priorities. Therefore top of his list was conclusion of the FTA and SPA plus a parallel agreement to allow Japan to participate (like Korea) in CSDP missions.  The EU and Japan then had to do some things together so that they could demonstrate to their publics the usefulness and importance of the relationship.  It would be worthwhile to explore possibilities for closer cooperation within the ASEM framework as the EU and Japan were two of the most important actors in ASEM. The EU experience might also be relevant for NE Asia. President Park had recognised this with the NAPCI initiative. The EU, however, was still not at the East Asia summit although it was now a prominent player in the ARF and had made a major effort to increase its presence in Asia in the past two years. The EU’s non-traditional security threat agenda was now becoming mainstream in Asia. He agreed that the Indian Ocean could be an area for closer cooperation once Japan had resolved its current security debate. If the EU helped broker a deal on Iran then this might be useful experience in doing something similar with DPRK. A link to Michael Reiterer’s latest paper on EU-Japan is available here.

In the discussion there was a focus on the importance of concluding the FTA as many trade issues had been on the table for years. Some interventions doubted the effectiveness of soft power if not backed by some hard power capabilities. There was also discussion on the EU’s lack of political will to improve its defence forces. A number of questions touched on the need for the EU to speak with one voice. There was also an appeal for greater student and youth exchanges between the EU and Japan.

In conclusion, Fraser Cameron said that 2015 would be a critical year for the relationship. The panel had shown the enormous potential to deepen cooperation between the EU and Japan. It was now up to the politicians and officials to finalise the agreements that would allow the relationship to fully blossom.

EU- Japan Background Note
EU's security Interest in East Asia