Staunton, May 3 – TASS yesterday picked up an April 30 report in “The Japan News,” the English-language publication of “Yomiuri Shimbun,” that German Chancellor Angela Merkel in March 2015 had proposed to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Japan should join NATO (tass.ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/3254409).
According to the original Japanese report, Merkel said she was confident that she could get France and Great Britain to support such a move; but Abe responded that while such a step might be possible in the future, it would kill any hope for negotiations with Moscow on the return of the Northern Territories (the-japan-news.com/news/article/0002904910).
This report follows others coming out of the German capital that Merkel does not expect Russia ever to be invited back to an expanded G-7 and might be expected to feed Russian paranoia about NATO being interested in surrounding the Russian Federation from all sides, including Asia.
But so far, Russian reaction has been relatively muted. On the Svobodnaya pressa portal, journalist Svetlana Gomzikova spoke with two Moscow experts, both of whom doubted that Merkel had ever made such a proposal and suggested that Tokyo was using this report to test Japanese support for a more forward military posture (svpressa.ru/politic/article/147834/).
Aleksandr Shpunt, director of the Moscow Institute of Political Analysis Instruments, said he had “great doubts” that such a conversation had ever taken place. NATO is after all “the North Atlantic alliance” and even the inclusion of Turkey was controversial. “Therefore, membership for Japan or Australia … is simply technologically impossible.”
Merkel knows that “all very well,” he continued. Moreover, if anyone was going to talk to Japan about membership it wouldn’t be Germany; it would be the US. What likely occurred, Shpunt said, was a discussion of increasing Japanese ties with NATO like those that Israel and the Philippines have.
That would be consistent with Abe’s view given that he is “the most militant prime minister of Japan for the entire post-war period.” He has boosted defense spending to more than the advertised one percent, and he now has a military whose budget is more than the military budget of Germany.
The Japanese leader has done so for three reasons: to stand up to Chinese moves in the South China Sea, to deal with a cooling of relations with South Korea, and to put Tokyo in a position to revise its relations with the United States. At the same time, Shpunt said, Japan is not planning to use its forces to seize the Kuriles as Moscow calls the Northern Territories.
The second expert, Vitaly Shvydko, who heads Japanese studies at Moscow’s Institute of International Economics and World Relations, was equally dismissive. He suggested that the report wasn’t even a provocation but rather was simply a rumor and that as such, it is irrelevant for Japanese-Russian relations.
“For the last several years,” Shvydko continued, “[those] relations have not changed in a significant way either for the worse or for the better.” There are expectations of progress but so far they have not worked out.
The comments of these two experts likely reflect the ways in which Russian officialdom is treating the report. But it is nearly certain that Russian nationalist commentators will pick up on this report and give it a more ominous reading, one that will suggest NATO is truly planning to surround Russia from all sides.