President Emmanuel Macron has been accused of kowtowing to China by blocking the opening of Nato’s first office in Asia.
The Nato liaison bureau in Tokyo was first proposed in January, when Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg visited Japan. But in June, the French president objected to the proposal, apparently out of concern that it might increase tensions between the alliance and China, according to Financial Times.
“If… we push Nato to enlarge the spectrum and the geography, we will make a big mistake,” the publication quoted Macron as saying.
Philipe Setton, the French ambassador to Tokyo, has reiterated the position, saying that “although we do not support the opening of a Tokyo office, we do believe it is important to strengthen the cooperative relationship between Nato and Japan”.
The Japanese government has maintained a diplomatic silence in response to Mr Macron’s comments, although privately it is said to be deeply disappointed. Japan is expected to use the upcoming Nato summit in Vilnius to lobby for the new office.
But the Japanese media has been less reticent in its criticism of the French leader’s position. In an editorial, the conservative Sankei newspaper declared that, “France shares responsibility for peace and stability in the world. As its leader, president Macron should not cower before China.”
The editorial added that if France “adopts a policy of turning a blind eye to the growing Chinese threat, it will throw the unified position of the Group of Seven industrialised nations into disarray”.
France has been criticised for falling short in its support of Ukraine amid the ongoing war with Russia and there is concern in Japan that some European nations will be even less inclined to support Taiwan should China invade.
Home to several US military bases, it is likely that Japan would be drawn into any conflict and Tokyo hopes that closer ties with Nato will dissuade Beijing from an attack.