By MARI YAMAGUCHI
TOKYO (AP) — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday held the first round of government consultations in Tokyo and agreed to strengthen economic and defense ties to better cope with China’s growing influence and global security concerns.
Kishida told a joint news conference after the talks that the sides agreed to strengthen supply chains in minerals, semiconductors, batteries and other strategic areas, in order to “counter economic coercion, state-led attempts to illegally acquire technology and non-market practices,” apparently referring to China.
“Japan and Germany, both industrial nations that share fundamental values, need to take global leadership to strengthen resilience of our societies,” Kishida said.
Scholz brought six of the 17 Cabinet members for talks with Japanese counterparts, including economy, finance, foreign, interior, transport and defense ministers. They discussed deepening economic and national security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as China’s assertiveness in pressing its maritime territorial claims and its closer ties with Russia.
Germany has similar “government consultations” framework with several countries.
In Tokyo, the two leaders again condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine and agreed to continue tough sanctions against Moscow and strong support for Ukraine, Kishida said.
Russia’s nuclear threat has made atomic weapons disarmament even more difficult and divided the international community, Kishida said, adding that it’s crucial to get China, Russia and other nuclear states to resume discussing nuclear disarmament.
Kishida is an advocate of a world without nuclear weapons, though critics say being under the U.S. nuclear umbrella makes his stance less convincing.
Scholtz said the government consultations will “further advance our strategic cooperation, and they’re a very important part of giving a new drive to this close cooperation we want to achieve together,” German news agency dpa reported.
In separate talks, the two defense ministers confirmed the German armed forces’ continued engagement in the Indo-Pacific region and a stronger military cooperation between the countries.
Japanese Defense Minster Yasukazu Hamada and his German counterpart Boris Pistorius agreed to coordinate closely in future regional deployments of the German military and step up joint exercises. They also agreed to seek a legal framework to facilitate increased joint defense activities, as well as cooperation in defense equipment and technology, the Japanese Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Japan, noting growing threats from China and North Korea, has been expanding military cooperation beyond its main ally, the United States, and has developed partnerships with Australia, Britain, European and Southeast Asian nations. Kishida’s government last year adopted a new national security strategy under which Japan is deploying long-range cruise missiles to strengthen its strike-back capability, a major break from the country’s postwar self-defense-only principle.
Scholtz visited Japan last year before going to China, making a point of prioritizing Germany’s economic ties with Tokyo over Beijing. Scholz is pushing to diversify Germany’s trade partners, while speaking out against a complete decoupling from China.
Japan, along with the United States, is seeking ways to stand up to increasing Chinese economic influence in the region. Tokyo also wants to reinforce economic security with other democracies in areas such as supply chains and the protection of sensitive technologies, apparently as a counter to China.
But Japan, which is a top U.S. ally and a major trade partner with China, is in a delicate situation and must balance its position between the two superpowers.
For Germany, China was its biggest trading partner in 2021 for the sixth consecutive year, as business ties have flourished even though political relations have turned tense.
Associated Press journalists Geir Moulson in Berlin, Haruka Nuga and Chisato Tanaka in Tokyo contributed to this report.