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“Japan is becoming increasingly important to us as a partner that shares the same values” 

25.07.2018 - Interview

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gave the following interview to the Japanese newspaper “Yomiuri Shimbun” on the occasion of his trip to Japan and the Republic of Korea.

The world order is shifting, long standing alliances are suddenly no longer the basis of global responsibility, and “the West” no longer stands united. You yourself have said that new alliances must be forged on the basis of common values. Is your visit to Japan taking place with this in mind? Which role can Japan play in these new alliances? At which levels can Germany and Japan promote this sort of alliance?

Germany and Japan have long enjoyed very close relations in a spirit of trust. So I wouldn’t say that this is a new alliance. However, it’s clear that Japan is becoming increasingly important to us as a partner that shares the same values, and not only in East Asia. We are pulling in the same direction in many areas – such as rules based free trade and within the framework of the G7. I would like to use my visit to Tokyo as an opportunity to continue to strengthen this cooperation, for instance by deepening our strategic dialogue on foreign and security policy issues.

Multilateralism, which underpins both the principles of German foreign policy and the structure of global institutions, is increasingly threatened by autocratic currents. What does the disintegration of this foundation of values mean for Europe and for Germany’s self image?

We firmly believe that cooperative solutions to common challenges are better and more effective than national approaches. An important foundation of multilateral solutions is trust – trust that international rules apply and that treaties are upheld across the board. All of this no longer seems to be something that we can take for granted in view of the enormous upheavals that the world order is currently undergoing. Policies of predictability and reliability must be our response to this. 

Japan also has a vested interest in safeguarding multilateralism. In which fields can Germany and Japan work together in concrete terms to counter these developments? Which suggestions will you bring to the table in your talks with your Japanese counterpart?

When multilateralism and free trade are challenged, we are called upon to work together to preserve our rules based international order. The agreement recently signed between the EU and Japan, creating the world’s largest free trade zone, sends an important signal for this common commitment. Europe and Japan are thus setting standards for world trade. Our cooperation with respect to ongoing efforts to strengthen and modernise the WTO is just as important. At the same time, we’re also committed to the cause of Security Council reform. This is the only way for us to safeguard the effectiveness and legitimacy of the UN.

The withdrawal of the US from various global agreements is, to an increasing extent, encouraging China to step up to the plate as a new international actor. Can China play an important role as a political partner in climate issues, or as regards the Iran deal? What are the limits to this sort of partnership?

Our most important partners outside Europe are and remain those with whom we share common values, a political system based on democracy and the rule of law, as well as a market driven economy. Japan, a country with whom we have many things in common, is, you might say, an ideal partner that shares the same values. We continue to number the US among our closest partners and allies, above all on global issues.

It is important for all countries to act together when tackling the greatest global challenges. This applies especially to those who shoulder particular responsibility in the international order – such as China with its permanent seat on the UN Security Council. China therefore already plays an important role. There are many crises and conflicts where we would like to see greater, not less, commitment on China’s part. At the same time, there are issues on which we have different views than China. That won’t change in the foreseeable future. This is the case particularly, but not only, with respect to values – on the topic of human rights and the rule of law.

You will travel to Korea following your visit to Japan. What is your assessment of the situation in North Korea? Is the pledge of total denuclearisation credible, and what can or must the international community do in order to implement North Korea’s promises? What specific role can Germany play in all this?

It’s clear to everyone involved that we’re at the beginning of a long and probably very difficult path, one whose destination is entirely unknown. The international community has, all too often, been disappointed by Pyongyang. The yardstick for our assessment of the situation must therefore be the question as to whether North Korea is prepared to undertake concrete, verifiable and irreversible steps towards denuclearisation. That is what this is all about at the end of the day. The joint statement signed in Singapore by President Trump and Kim Jong Un is a first step in the right direction. We now want to see concrete action on the part of Pyongyang, however. The Federal Government is prepared to support diplomatic efforts to this end.

The NATO Summit showed once again that Europe can no longer rely on US cooperation. How can, or indeed must, Germany and Europe respond to this? Should Europe pool and expand its military strength in its own interests in order to make itself less dependent on imponderables such as the American President’s threats?

It’s no secret that the Atlantic has become wider in political terms. We can no longer rely on the White House without question. It also follows that we in Europe must invest more in our security and our defence equipment. However, more weapons certainly do not automatically lead to more security. What we need, first and foremost, is greater respect for rules and the international order. Furthermore, we must work even more closely together in Europe. We want to maintain our partnership with the US, but we need to achieve a new balance. We can only do this in a self confident and sovereign Europe.

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