Japan's top government spokesman on Tuesday declined to comment on French President Emmanuel Macron's reported objection to a plan to open a NATO liaison office in Tokyo, only saying that "various considerations" are taking place inside the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The Financial Times reported Monday that Macron has objected to what would be NATO's first office in Asia, reflecting France's reluctance to back anything that fuels tensions between the alliance and China. The plan, revealed in May, has upset Beijing.
"Various considerations are under way within NATO. At this point, I will refrain from commenting with prejudgment," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference when asked about the report.
NATO has been eager to increase cooperation with Asia-Pacific countries amid concerns over Russia's growing military cooperation with China following its invasion of Ukraine. The opening of an office in Tokyo is apparently aimed at deepening ties with Japan.
Setting up a NATO office needs unanimous approval from the organization's decision-making North Atlantic Council, with France having the power to block the plan.
In a conference last week, Macron said NATO should not expand its reach beyond the North Atlantic and added, "If...we push NATO to enlarge the spectrum and the geography, we will make a big mistake," according to the newspaper.
The resistance from France has complicated months of discussion within NATO over the opening of the outpost in Tokyo, it also said, citing eight people familiar with the situation.
One French official reportedly suggested that the opening of the office could undermine European credibility with China in regard to the war in Ukraine, particularly in terms of asking the Chinese not to supply arms to Russia.
Another person was quoted as saying that France was reluctant to back anything "that contributes to NATO-China tension."
Macron made waves in April for his comments in a media interview that Europe should not be a "follower" of either the United States or China, cautioning against being drawn into a crisis over Taiwan amid the two countries' rivalry.
Beijing claims the self-ruled democratic island as part of its territory to be brought under control, by force if necessary.
Reacting to Monday's newspaper report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin warned of NATO's "outreach in Asia."
"Asia lies beyond the geographical scope of the North Atlantic...However, we have seen NATO bent on going east into this region, interfering in regional affairs and inciting bloc confrontation," he told a press conference on Tuesday.
He also said Japan "should make the right call in keeping with the region's stability and development interests and refrain from doing anything that may undermine mutual trust between regional countries and peace and stability in the region."