The EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) was signed and adopted in July 2018 in parallel with the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). For now, the agreement is only provisionally as it is pending final approval. The SPA will enter into force after all EU members ratify the agreement (the Japanese parliament already ratified it in December 2018). The agreement covers EU-Japanese cooperation in international politics, economics, and security.
Tokyo and Brussels are demonstrating that they have learned from the past and that a clear focus is necessary. The previous EU-Japan Action Plan adopted in 2001 (which expired in 2011) listed far too many issues and areas in the realm of international political and security (more than 100) that the EU and Japan wanted to jointly tackle. To be sure, the SPA is still listing more than 40 areas of cooperation, among them crisis and conflict management, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation of WMDs and disarmament, transfering control of conventional weapons, disaster management, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear risk mitigation, climate change, maritime security, corruption and organized crime, money laundering and financing of terrorism, cyber security, energy/energy security. The newly-established EU-Japan Joint Committee is the forum in which Brussels and Tokyo discuss and decide on what initiatives to undertake together. The most recent (and second) joint committee took place in Brussels on January 31, 2020.
The January 2020 committee meeting announced that the EU and Tokyo plan on “stepping up work on connectivity, security and digitalization.” Add “effective multilateralism”, “climate and environment” and “security” and you have a complete list of the areas Brussels and Japan are focusing on. “Connectivity” is clearly the priority among the priorities of EU-Japan on the ground cooperation. In September 2019 Brussels and Tokyo adopted the “EU–Japan Partnership on Sustainable Connectivity and Quality Infrastructure.” The EU-Japan infrastructure building agreement is backed by a 60 billion Euro EU guarantee fund, which the EU declared would be used to attract further investments from development banks and private investors. Without mentioning China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), The two parties stressed the need for the projects to be “environmentally and financially sustainable”, provide “rules-based connectivity”, foster “free and open trade”, and to pursue a “mutually-beneficial” relationship. The SPA mentions “quality infrastructure” projects that physically link transport networks, digital service connectivity in cyber space, as well as increased people-to-people exchange in fields such as education, culture and tourism. The Western Balkans, the Indo-Pacific region and Africa were at the time identified as the geographical areas the EU and Japan would focus on when jointly pursuing ”quality infrastructure” projects. In parallel the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed agreements which are aimed at working together on transport, quality infrastructure investment, microfinance and renewable energy sources.
After a three-year interruption, the EU and Japan are again discussing security and how to jointly contribute to maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and anti-piracy measures. Joint port calls along the Horn of Africa, joint capacity-building initiatives in and for Vietnam, Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia are on the agenda. Furthermore, next to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam, Japan is a partner country of the EU’s plan to intensify security cooperation with Asian countries. The EU’s Action Plan entitled “EU Security Cooperation in and with Asia” adopted in October 2019 - foresees EU cooperation with the above-mentioned Asian countries in areas such maritime policy, counter terrorism, crisis management, hybrid security, cybersecurity, as well as the non-proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. What continues to remain off the agenda are joint EU-Japanese naval patrols in the South China Sea, at least for now. Japanese officials and scholars this author has spoken with confirm that European naval vessels flying their flag in the South China Sea, thereby jointly keeping Chinese territorial expansion in check, is desirable. The same officials and scholars, however, also caution that this is quite simply not going to take place any time soon. To be sure, jointly keeping Chinese territorial expansionism in check would be another way of stating that Japanese and European ships would be sailing through international waters monitoring Beijing from a distance, particularly in its attempts to military facilities on disputed islands in the South China Sea.
The Framework Partnership Agreement (FPA)
The EU-Japan Framework Partnership Agreement (FPA) is also back on the agenda, within limitations however. The agreement – sometimes on and then again off the EU-Japan agenda over the last three to five years - would create the legal framework for Japanese institutionalized contributions to EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions. However, EU sources caution that the agreement has still a long way to go before being ready to be adopted as the EU and Japan still do not agree on the modalities and modus operandi of the contributions of Japanese Self-Defence Forces (SDF) to CSDP missions. Whether and when the FPA will make it as one of the “flagships” of EU-Japan cooperation remains to be seen. That being said, even if it never reaches this level Tokyo can still (as it currently does) contribute to EU CSDP missions. Without the FPA, the EU and Japan are legally speaking not conducting “joint missions”, but are instead engaged in what Brussels refers to as “parallel coordinated action.” Japan has in the past contributed to EU CSDP civilian missions on several occasions, such as in Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger. Finally, Tokyo has recently deployed a Japanese military attaché to Japan’s EU Delegation in Brussels. This is symbolically important as an officer from Japan’s SDF can exchange information and data with his counterparts from EU member states. If Brussels and Tokyo sustainably want to make a difference in international politics and security, the aforementioned dialogues must in the (not-so-distant future) be followed up by joint policy actions. The “EU Security Cooperation in and with Asia” plan of which the EU’s “natural ally” Japan will be an important - if not the central – partner is without doubt a step in the right direction in terms of concrete and concerted action.
 See also EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement; European External Action Service (EEAS); 1 February 2019.
 See Japan: The EU and Japan Meet to Advance their Strategic Agenda; European External Action Service Service (EEAS) Brussels 31 January 2020.
 See Japan-EU Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA); Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan July 2018.
 See Japan: The EU and Japan meet to advance their strategic agenda; 31 January 2020; European External Action Service (EEAS).
 See EIB expands its partnership with Japan’s JICA; European Investment Bank (EIB) 27 September 2019.
 See Action Document for ‘Security cooperation in and with Asia’, European Commission October 2019; also see Enhancing Security in and with Asia; European External Action Service (EEAS) October 17, 2019.
 Japan and the EU have been referring to each other as ‘natural allies’ at least since they adopted the ‘EU-Japan Action Plan’ in 2001.