By Fu Honghong and Zhao Ying
Recently, Germany participated in a JMSDF-led Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force exercise (ANNUALEX 2021). The German frigate FGS Bayern (F217) visited Japan again nearly 20 years later. In this regard, Japan has attached great importance, intending to woo more European countries for defense cooperation and seek to achieve the goal of being a political and military power.
Japan and Germany have accelerated their defense cooperation in the context of their respective "Indo-Pacific Concepts." In 2016, the Shinzo Abe’s administration took the lead in proposing Japan's "free and open Indo-Pacific" concept, aiming to shape the order of the Indo-Pacific region and improve Japan's international political and military status. Considering its own limited strength and the relative decline of the US power, Japan has attached great importance to wooing other countries to carry out defense cooperation to strut in borrowed plumes. Since German frigate Bayernhas departed from Germany in August, Japan has organized three joint naval drills with the frigate involved in the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and waters off the Pacific coast south of Tokyo. As hyped up by the Japanese media, another European power has become its companion following the UK and France.
As for Germany, the cooperation with Japan can allow it to effectively intervene in the affairs of the Indo-Pacific region and enhance its influence therein. As the economic and political importance of the region keeps rising, the German government issued the “Germany-Europe-Asia: Shaping the 21st Century Together”, a policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific region in September 2020, stating that the development of international order in the 21st century is up to the Indo-Pacific region. It also indicated that Germany has defined the Indo-Pacific region as a priority of its foreign policy. Therefore, Germany, which kept on reflecting on history and was more cautious about developing defense relations with Japan and sending troops overseas for decades after WWII, has also sent warship to conduct joint exercises with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).
Japan has continued to expand the scope of its defense cooperation partners, under the disguise of which it aims to turn into political and military power. However, compared to other countries like Britain and France, Germany is more rational and cautious, laying emphasis on maximizing its own interests in multi-party games, rather than tend to provoke troubles or be ready to be a tool. Although Japan and Germany are getting closer in the field of defense, it is difficult for the two parties to truly make concerted efforts considering the real needs of each party.