Japan supports Sweden's NATO membership as defense ministers strengthen ties

Japan’s defense minister has expressed his country’s support for Sweden’s NATO membership during talks with his Swedish counterpart

ByRAF WOBER Associated Press
June 7, 2023, 8:37 AM

TOKYO -- Japan's defense minister expressed his country's support for Sweden's NATO membership during talks Wednesday with his Swedish counterpart, as the two sides called for stronger military ties amid shared concern over threats from Russia and China.

Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson said that Sweden sees the need for European countries to reach out to Asian partners because of the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Japan is especially concerned about increasing military cooperation between China and Russia and their joint exercises around Japan.

“Sweden and Japan are meeting many of the similar security challenges. Europe is at war once again, and it is obvious to me that the dialogue between the countries in the Euro-Atlantic community and the Indo-Pacific community has to be intensified,” Jonson said.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, in his opening remarks at the beginning of the talks, reiterated Japan's support for Sweden's NATO membership "while the security environment is becoming increasingly severe with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.” He also welcomed Jonson's visit, the first in 25 years by a Swedish defense minister.

Hamada and Jonson welcomed the recent increase of high-level defense exchanges and progress in military and equipment cooperation between their countries, and agreed to further promote ties, the Japanese Defense Ministry said in a statement. It said Japan and Sweden in December signed the defense equipment and technology transfer agreement, the first between Japan and a Nordic country.

Jonson in a news conference on Tuesday said that joining NATO is the “highest priority” for Sweden, and hopes that membership can be achieved in time for a NATO leaders' summit in Lithuania in July. Turkey and Hungary have yet to endorse the move.

Japan has been strengthening ties with NATO against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and concerns that it may embolden China's already assertive military activity in East Asia.

Discussions are underway to open a NATO office in Japan, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is reportedly considering attending a NATO meeting next month.


Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.

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