Photo/Illutration Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meets on Jan. 31 with Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general. (Koichi Ueda)

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is vowing to boost Japan’s relationship with NATO amid greater security concerns about some of its neighbors, namely China, North Korea and Russia.

Kishida met with Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary-general, on Jan. 31, where the two agreed to strengthen their partnership, including by stepping up their cooperation against cyberthreats.

“I welcome the deepened interest and engagement in the Indo-Pacific region on the part of NATO,” Kishida said during a news conference after the meeting.

The Japanese Embassy in Belgium concurrently serves as the diplomatic liaison for NATO, but Kishida said Japan will establish a permanent representative office for NATO in fiscal 2023.

The two leaders agreed that NATO and Japan need to communicate better with each other, and are considering having Japanese officials periodically participate in the North Atlantic Council and the NATO chiefs of defense meetings.

The latest meeting comes in the wake of Kishida’s participation in the Madrid NATO summit in June 2022, which made him the first Japanese prime minister to take part in a NATO summit.

In the three national security documents approved by the Kishida Cabinet in December, NATO was named as one of the like-minded parties Japan wishes to deepen its relationship with on foreign affairs and defense.

NATO has also voiced a desire to strengthen the relationship as it looks to become more involved in the Indo-Pacific region.

Kishida said discussions covered stepping up cooperation in areas such as intelligence sharing, cyberspace and outer space.

The two leaders agreed to draft a new agreement that will include wording about cooperating on cyberspace threats and maritime defense, as well as granting observer status to participate in the other’s military exercises.

The document would be added to the Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program (IPCP) between Japan and NATO.

The joint statement issued after their meeting said the two sides agreed to “elevate current Japan-NATO cooperation to new heights that reflect the challenges of a new era.”

Japan will dispatch officials from the Defense Ministry and other departments to NATO research facilities to learn about defense and science technology accumulated by NATO.

Japan is particularly interested in hybrid operations that combine intelligence warfare with cyberspace activities. Northern European and Baltic nations bordering Russia have acquired this technology.

(This article was written by Taro Kotegawa and Nobuhiko Tajima.)