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Evaluation of Germany-Japan Relations

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On November 4, 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Beijing, causing a great stir in the worldwide press. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo three days before the visit.[1] The meeting included themes such as nuclear non-proliferation and economic security, as well as sanctions against Russia, United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reform, and climate change issues. The parties agreed to expand their cooperation on these matters and expressed concern about the South and East China Seas situations.

Despite their geographical distance, Steinmeier described Japan as an important partner in a subsequent interview, demonstrating the desire to develop bilateral relations. There are two factors in the development of Germany-Japan relations. The first is a rise in high-level bilateral communication and interactions, while the second is an increase in cooperation areas. The visits of the German President, Chancellor and Foreign Minister to Japan in 2022 can be seen as good examples of high-level dialogue.

Secondly, the trade volume between the parties is growing, economic cooperation is increasing, and progress is being made on security. Indeed, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated that the two nations desire to improve communication and cooperation on security.[2] This statement by Baerbock is an indication of Germany’s desire to increase its influence in the Indo-Pacific.

However, Japan and Germany signed an agreement on information security in 2021, and in November of the same year, a frigate of the German Navy became the first German warship to visit Japan in twenty years.[3] Furthermore, the same frigate participated in a combined naval drill with Japan. In addition, cooperation between the two countries in areas such as climate, cyber security and 6G projects was discussed.

The Japan-Germany reconciliation has some solid grounds. The first element might be argued to be Germany’s ups and downs with China. Because Germany and China are unable to achieve an agreement on several topics. Although some important messages emerged from Scholz’s recent visit to Beijing, it can be said that bilateral relations are not making progress.  Because Berlin believes it must be careful in its actions against Beijing. Furthermore, the zero Covid policy and several foreign investment limitations hinder German companies’ ambitions and operations in the Chinese market.[4]

The problems and the tangle of disagreements between Germany and China cause Berlin to turn its direction towards Japan and to develop cooperation with Tokyo. Germany can position Japan as a role model while engaging with China. Because Japan’s relationship with China is generally in balance, the parties try to avoid possible crises.

The second reason for the two nations’ rapprochement is based on the strategy implemented by Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. According to this, security issues in Europe and East Asia are connected in some manner, and this circumstance draws European governments and Japan closer together. For example, Kishida stated in an interview that they cooperated with Germany and stated that they supported Europe on sanctions against Russia.[5] This indicates that Japan’s security interests align with those of Europe. Similarly, Baerbock noted in a statement that Berlin can completely rely on Tokyo in the Indo-Pacific.[6]

On the other hand, some factors may pose problems to German Japanese relations. These can be listed as China’s attitude, Japan’s relations with China, and the change and transformation in Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy. Beijing may make certain demands of Berlin in exchange for using its influence with Moscow to bring the Ukraine conflict to a conclusion. This could deteriorate Germany’s relationship with Japan. Because China’s economic influence on Russia is quite high. As a result, if China makes demands of Russia in the context of the Ukraine war, energy, and other concerns, it may make big demands of Germany in return. Accordingly, Beijing may ask Berlin not to side with Tokyo on issues such as conflicts and human rights violations in the Pacific.

Secondly, Japan can take steps by considering its interests in its future policy. For example, Japan’s refusal to criticize China on human rights may call German Japanese relations into doubt. Because, as a country that supports values such as human rights, Germany may feel uncomfortable with the step taken by Japan.

Lastly, Germany, in its policy statement published in 2019, mentioned that the countries with which it will establish partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region should have democratic and common values. However, the messages and statements made by the German Government in September 2022 show that this policy has changed. Accordingly, it has been stated that the Indo-Pacific partnerships and cooperations would be focused on all states in the region. In other words, dedication to common values such as democracy and human rights has been set aside, and it is accepted that collaboration would be based on mutual interests. In reality, it is sensible for Germany to undertake such a transition at a time when the world’s axis of power and geopolitical importance has shifted to Asia. However, with the increase of the states establishing partnerships in the region, the importance given to relations with Japan may decrease.

In short, Japan-Germany relations are going well. The increased number of meetings and visits in recent years, as well as signed agreements and statements, indicate that the two nations wish to enhance their collaboration, particularly based on security. This means that bilateral relations will develop further. However, China’s position and attitude stand out as the most critical element that might influence the parties’ relations.


[1] Haruka Nuga-Mari Yamaguchi, “Germany Stresses İncreasing Defense Role in Indo-Pacific”, AP News, https://apnews.com/article/europe-business-china-japan-germany-5f9944de51934227f0a051cf15ee3f5f, (Date of Accession: 26.11.2022).

[2] “Japan, Germany Vow To Guard Rules-Based Int’l Order Amid Ukraine War”, Kyodo News, https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2022/07/033e3232483a-japan-germany-foreign-chiefs-seek-cooperation-amid-chinas-rise.html, (Date of Accession: 26.11.2022).

[3] Julian Ryall, “Germany, Japan Seek Deeper Ties During Scholz Visit”, Deutch Welle, https://www.dw.com/en/germany-and-japan-seek-deeper-ties-during-scholz-visit/a-61608621 (Date of Accession: 26.11.2022).

[4] “China’s ‘Zero-COVID’ Policy Frustrates EU Firms”, Deutch Welle, https://www.dw.com/en/chinas-zero-covid-policy-prompts-eu-firms-to-put-investments-on-hold/video-61694530, (Date of Accession: 26.11.2022).

[5] Japonya Başbakanlık Ofisi, “Japan’s Response to Russia’s Aggression against Ukraine”, https://japan.kantei.go.jp/101_kishida/statement/202205/_00009.html, (Date of Accession: 26.11.2022).

[6] Federal Dış İlişkiler Ofisi, “Statement by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock”, https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/en/newsroom/news/baerbock-asia-g20/2541110, (Date of Accession: 26.11.2022).

Göktuğ ÇALIŞKAN
Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt Üniversitesi Siyaset Bilimi ve Kamu Yönetimi bölümünde lisans eğitimi alan Göktuğ ÇALIŞKAN, aynı süreçte çift ana dal programı kapsamında üniversitenin Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi’nde yer alan Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde de eğitim görmüştür. 2017 yılında lisans mezuniyetini tamamladıktan sonra Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde yüksek lisans programına başlayan Çalışkan, bu programı 2020 yılında başarı ile tamamlamıştır. 2018 yılında ise çift ana dal programı kapsamında eğitim gördüğü Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünden mezun olmuştur. Millî Eğitim Bakanlığı (MEB) bursu kapsamında 2017 yılı YLSY programını kazanarak halen Fransa’da dil eğitimi alan Göktuğ Çalışkan aynı zamanda Erciyes Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi son sınıf öğrencisidir. YLSY programı kapsamında Fas'ta Uluslararası Rabat Üniversitesinde Yönetişim ve Uluslararası İstihbarat alanında 2. yüksek lisansını yapmakta olan Çalışkan, Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası Ilişkiler bölümünde doktorasına başlamıştır. Iyi derecede İngilizce ve Fransızca bilmektedir.