BRUSSELS (AP) — The U.S.-led NATO alliance and Japan, facing mounting security challenges in their respective neighborhoods, agreed Tuesday to cooperate more.
During a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to NATO headquarters, the two sides signed an "individual partnership and cooperation program" that will serve as a roadmap for future joint activities, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
In a speech to ambassadors from the alliance's 28 member states, Abe said: "NATO, which shares our fundamental values, is indeed our natural partner. Together, we triumphed in the Cold War."
Rasmussen said the new program will affect joint activities like counter-piracy operations, disaster relief and humanitarian aid. He also lauded Japan for spending billions to support alliance operations in Afghanistan and for being NATO's oldest partner from outside Europe or North America.
"There is no doubt the security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic and Asian-Pacific regions cannot be treated separately," Rasmussen told a joint news conference. "In this time of crisis, our dialogue with like-minded partners like Japan is key to address global security challenges."
The program comes at a time when the alliance is greatly concerned about the intentions of President Vladimir Putin's Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and when Japan is beset with security challenges of its own, especially from China.
"In the East China Sea, we have seen persistent intrusions into Japan's territorial waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands," Abe said in the non-public portion of his speech, according to a transcript provided by Japanese officials. "The number of times that (Japanese) Self-Defense Force aircraft scramble in response to military aircraft approaching our territorial airspace has now reached the same level as during the height of the Cold War."
"For Japan, realizing peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific is a top priority," Abe said. "We will act in cooperation with any nation who seeks to play a constructive role toward that end. At the same time, Japan will adhere to the rule of law and defend the maritime order, including freedom of navigation, as well as freedom of overflight."
Abe, who wants Japan to be a take a more "proactive" foreign and security policy, is on a nine-day visit to Europe. His visit concludes Wednesday with a meeting in Brussels with leading officials of the European Union.