Japan intends to upgrade its partnership with NATO significantly after Russia's war against Ukraine as the security of Europe is inseparable from that of Asia, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday, hailing the Western alliance's engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
Kishida attended a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Spain as the first Japanese leader to do so, highlighting the expanding reach of an alliance that faces challenges posed by Russia and China.
The two-day summit through Thursday will see NATO members commit to bolstering defenses in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It adopted a new Strategic Concept -- the alliance's guiding document for the next decade -- that mentioned China for the first time.
NATO has invited to the gathering the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, which the Brussels-based organization views as its Asia-Pacific partner countries, also an unprecedented move.
NATO plus the four nations will agree to create a road map for expanded cooperation, the U.S. government said in a document outlining the expected outcome of the summit.
The road map will ensure "closer political consultation and joint work on issues of mutual interest," including cyber threats, maritime security, counterterrorism and the impact of climate change on security, the government said.
Kishida told the gathering that Japan is seeking to update its own partnership document with NATO to boost cooperation in such areas as cyber and maritime security.
The Asian nation plans to bolster its defenses over the next five years and substantially increase defense spending to cope with growing security threats, including those caused by China and its opaque military buildup.
Russia's war on Ukraine has heightened concerns that the next potential military flash point could involve China in the Indo-Pacific. The Western alliance is aiming to boost ties with Asia-Pacific partners.
In a swipe at China, Kishida said unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force continue in the East and South China seas, adding that he feels a "strong sense of crisis" regarding the likelihood of conflict similar to Ukraine's breaking out in East Asia.
"We must demonstrate unity so that such attempts will never succeed," he said.
China has been pressuring Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island which Beijing views as part of its territory. It has also been militarizing outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea and carrying out repeated incursions into waters around the Senkaku Islands, a group of East China Sea islets controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.
Japan, the sole Asian member of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, has been moving in lockstep with the United States and European countries in imposing sanctions on Moscow, reflecting its stance that any tolerance of the Kremlin's brazen attack on a sovereign nation could risk emboldening China.
The United States has welcomed the participation of the Asia-Pacific countries in the NATO summit as a sign of a deepening link between security in Europe and their region, as well as of the democratic world firming up against autocracies such as Russia and China.
Chairing the meeting joined by the alliance members, Asia-Pacific partners and others, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, "China does not share our values and, like Russia, it seeks to undermine the international rules-based order."
"So we must continue to stand together and work with like-minded partners around the world to protect our values and our freedom. And to promote peace and prosperity," he added.
NATO was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada and several Western European nations to defend against the threat from the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies. It has grown to become an organization with 30 members and is now set to welcome Finland and Sweden in the wake of the Russia's invasion.
In terms of NATO's relations with the Asia-Pacific nations, the organization said in its communique released after its summit in June last year it plans to enhance "political dialogue and practical cooperation" with Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
In April this year, the four countries participated in NATO's foreign ministerial meeting and they agreed to continue supporting Ukraine and to step up cooperation given the "global implications" of Russia's war on Ukraine.
Australia, Japan and South Korea are all U.S. security allies. Australia and New Zealand are part of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing alliance that also involves Britain, Canada and the United States, while Japan and Australia are members of the Quad group alongside the United States and India.
For the first time, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea held a four-way summit on Wednesday ahead of the meeting of NATO leaders.
Kishida, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed to boost cooperation with NATO based on the perception that the security of the Indo-Pacific region and Europe is inseparable, according to the Japanese government.
During the quadrilateral summit hosted by Kishida, which lasted about one hour, they also agreed that Russia's invasion of Ukraine must be condemned, the government said.