France does not welcome a proposal for NATO to open a liaison office in Japan, a French official said on Tuesday, adding that such a move would distance the Alliance from its main region of interest.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has recently suggested opening an office in Tokyo in response to the growing challenge posed by China.
“NATO (stands for) North Atlantic, and both Article V and Article VI (of its statutes) clearly limit the scope of application to the North Atlantic,” said a French official, who asked not to be named.
“There is no NATO liaison office in any country in the region. Suppose NATO needs an understanding of the situation in the region. In that case, it can use the designated embassies as a point of contact,” the official added, reacting to an article first published in the Financial Times.
The article reported Monday that French President Emmanuel Macron has opposed what would be NATO’s first office in Asia, reflecting France’s reluctance to back anything that would fuel tensions between the alliance and China. The plan, revealed in May, has angered Beijing.
On Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno declined to comment on Macron’s alleged objection.
“In NATO, various considerations are being carried out. At this time, I will refrain from making biased comments,” the top Japanese government spokesman said.
NATO, envisioned as a transatlantic security organization against the Soviet-era communist bloc, is trying to define its role in the face of Beijing’s rise while supporting Ukraine against a Russian invasion.
Stoltenberg stated last week that “what happens in Asia matters to Europe, and what happens in Europe matters to Asia, so it is even more important that NATO allies strengthen our partnership with our Indo-Pacific partners.”
Without saying specifically where I have noticed that there had been a “request” to have a NATO liaison office “and we are looking into the possibility of establishing the office.”
The creation of a NATO office needs the unanimous approval of the North Atlantic Council, the organization’s decision-making body and France has the power to block the plan.
At a conference last week, Macron said NATO should not expand its reach beyond the North Atlantic, adding: “If… we push NATO to expand spectrum and geography, we will make a big mistake,” according to the newspaper.
He also said that France’s resistance had complicated months of discussion within NATO over the opening of the Tokyo outpost, citing people familiar with the situation.
A French official has reportedly suggested that opening the office could undermine European credibility with China over the Ukraine war, especially when it comes to asking the Chinese not to supply Russia with weapons.
French officials are also upset that the matter appeared in the press before full consultations were held among NATO members.
Earlier this year, Macron paid a high-level state visit to boost relations with China under Xi Jinping’s presidency, later controversially suggesting that Europe should stay out of US-China tensions over Taiwan.
Reacting to Monday’s newspaper report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin warned of NATO’s “Asian reach.”
“Asia lies beyond the geographic scope of the North Atlantic. …However, we have seen NATO bent on pushing into this region, interfering in regional affairs and inciting bloc confrontation,” he declared during a press conference on Tuesday.
He also said that Japan “should make the right decision in accordance with the stability and development interests of the region and refrain from doing anything that could undermine mutual trust between the countries in the area and peace and stability in the region.”
The Japan Times