By Xiang Haoyu
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg began his visit to South Korea and Japan on January 29. It seems to be a return visit in response to the attendance at NATO summit by the leaders of these two countries last year. However, against the background of the Ukraine crisis and the unstable situation in the Asia-Pacific, this visit may accelerate NATO's calculations in Asia-Pacific.
In recent years, NATO has frequently interacted with Japan and South Korea, gradually revealing the political calculations and strategic ambitions of both sides. As a military security bloc based in the North Atlantic, NATO does not disintegrate with the end of the Cold War, but still exists by continuously concocting the so-called “common enemies" under the hegemonic logic of the US and Europe. In the NATO 2022 Strategic Concept released in June last year, NATO pointed out that Russia is the "the most significant and direct threat” and named China as a "systemic challenge" to NATO for the first time. It also declared that the situation in the Indo-Pacific directly affects Euro-Atlantic security. According to the document, NATO will strengthen dialogue and cooperation with regional partners to deal with cross-regional challenges and share security interests. This further clarifies that its global strategic focus is shifting to the Asia-Pacific.
For Japan and South Korea, to get closer to NATO has dual strategic considerations of boosting military expansion and seeking great power status. Their relationship with NATO has been warming up since last year. The leaders of the two countries participated in the NATO summit for the first time, and then they successively joined the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE). Under the guidance of intensive high-level interactions, their cooperation with NATO has deepened from traditional defense exchanges, such as mutual visits of personnel and ships, to substantive military cooperation in the fields of intelligence sharing, joint exercises, and joint research and development of weapons and equipment, and is even expanding to non-traditional security fields such as network security, supply chain, and infrastructure. Japan proposed in the three security documents that its defense expenditures should reach the goal of 2% of GDP, which aims to align with NATO standards.
It is worth noting that Japan and South Korea are promoting NATO’s steps in the Asia-Pacific through their closeness to NATO. According to the news released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, during this visit, Japan and NATO will exchange views on dealing with the situation in Ukraine and cooperation in the "free and open Indo-Pacific". South Korean government sources revealed that the two sides will focus on discussing regional security issues such as the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.
It is known to all that Indo-Pacific, as a geopolitical concept forcibly implanted in the Asia-Pacific region by the US, Japan and other countries, has become a tool for the US and the West to provoke great power competition and camp confrontation in this region. In NATO's view, getting involved in the Indo-Pacific can induce Japan and South Korea to put further pressure on Russia on the Ukraine issue, and expand their global interests. For Japan and South Korea, the introduction of NATO can strengthen their confidence in regional issues, and demonstrate their status and influence as major powers.
The baton of the US is looming behind their interactions. In recent years, from the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the US, Japan, India, and Australia, the AUKUS between the US, the UK, and Australia, the trilateral military cooperation among the US, Japan, and South Korea, to the quasi-alliance "Reciprocal Access Agreement" (RAA) signed between Japan and the UK as well as Australia, the US' alliance systems in the Asia Pacific and Atlantic are increasingly converging. After the Ukrainian crisis, NATO concocted the argument that European security and Asian security are inseparable, took the opportunity to strengthen interaction with US allies in the Asia-Pacific such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia, exaggerated the “security threat" in East Asia, and even hyped up the word of "Asia-Pacific version of NATO".
Various signs have exposed a major risk in today's world, that is, the Western bloc has taken great-power competition and camp confrontation as the main tone of global governance. It is accelerating the layout of the new cold war through the political manipulation of overstretching the concept of security and ideology around the world, and the Asia-Pacific region has become a key investment direction. NATO's overstepping intervention in regional security issues may stimulate further intensification of already complex and acute geopolitical conflicts, leading to the rise of regional security dilemmas, and intensifying the risk of military confrontation and even conflicts.
Japan and South Korea should have been beneficiaries of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and regional integration. However, they have turned into destroyers of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region amidst the populist agitation of domestic conservative politicians. Treating neighbors as enemies will never make a country more secure. Instead, it will only further exacerbate the diplomatic and security difficulties in the surrounding areas.
(The author is a special researcher at the Department for Asia-Pacific Studies, China Institute of International Studies)
Editor's note: Originally published on huanqiu.com, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.