The ongoing NATO summit is held from 11th to 12th July 2023 in Vilnius, Lithuania. The summit’s main agenda is addressing the “threat” posed by Russia, focusing on NATO’s expansion plans and the potential membership of Ukraine in NATO. However, the summit will also discuss NATO’s strategic involvement in the Asia-Pacific region. A significant topic of discussion will be the expansion of cooperation with four key “Asia-Pacific partners” – Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
In response to this context, the US media has boldly stated that NATO aims to deter China’s strategic aspirations. The Global Times, China-based news media, views the Summit as a NATO that becomes more ambitious and aggressive. It must quickly retract its influence in the Asia-Pacific region and should not entertain the idea of expanding its presence there.
In addition, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed concerns about the Chinese government’s increasingly coercive behavior internationally and repressive policies domestically. Stoltenberg highlighted that autocratic nations, including China, closely observed Russia’s actions in Ukraine and considered the advantages and disadvantages of offensive actions.
James Mackey, the alliance’s director of security policy and partnerships, emphasized that China is significantly augmenting its military capabilities in a manner that lacks transparency, including advancements in nuclear capability. NATO observes China’s attempts to influence global norms and standards, including its engagement with the United Nations system. While NATO mentioned its willingness to engage constructively with China, it also pointed out the deepening strategic partnership between Beijing and Moscow, highlighting their joint efforts to undermine the rules-based international order.
Japan-NATO new security cooperation
Regarding China’s ‘aggressive’ behavior, NATO invites its Asia-Pacific allies, including Japan. NATO and its allies in the Asia-Pacific are deepening their ties to show their commitment and common interests in countering China’s threats in political and security contexts. Japan PM Kishida expressed his enthusiasm for utilizing the summit to reaffirm cooperation with countries committed to upholding the rules-based, free, and open international order, per government sources.
Together with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Kishida is expected to unveil a new document to enhance collaboration between Japan and the alliance in various areas such as maritime security, disinformation response, and outer space. Japan and NATO have flourishing cooperation and increased strategic cooperation as reliable and natural partners who ‘share common values and security interests.’
As Japan has held concerns about Chinese actions for a considerable time, NATO has now also recognized them as a threat. Consequently, the alliance has been compelled to increase its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region and foster partnerships with countries in that area. Moreover, the recent aggressive actions by Moscow, particularly its invasion of Ukraine, have significantly influenced Japan’s perception of threats and its security policy. As a result, Japan has moved closer to nations that share similar views.
The document, known as the Individually Tailored Partnership Program, is being developed by Japan in collaboration with the 31 member countries of NATO. Its objective is to strengthen security cooperation between the Indo-Pacific region and Europe, focusing on addressing concerns related to China.
Apart from attending the NATO summit, Kishida is also scheduled to visit Belgium for regular discussions with EU leaders later in the week. On the summit’s sidelines, Kishida plans to hold separate meetings with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
During his conversation with President Yoon, Kishida intends to explain Japan’s plan to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea. According to sources, the International Atomic Energy Agency has approved the project. South Korea stated that based on their country’s assessment, the plan would meet international safety standards if carried out as planned. The South Korean government emphasized that the health and safety of its citizens are the top priority.
The NATO Summit once again become a political and security matter for its Asia allies. The presence of Indo-Pacific allies reflects a growing interest among the NATO alliances in stepping up in a dialogue with the Asia Pacific, especially about the concern about what happening in Ukraine might also happen in Asia, regarding China to Taiwan. Although they did not explicitly mention Taiwan, the current concern about China’s behavior in the country that Beijing claimed as its own is growing.
The Asia-Pacific countries have common threats as a strategy published at a summit in Madrid said that China was the source of ‘systemic challenges’ including supply chain, infrastructure, also military tools. Although Hungary perceives China’s presence as ‘opportunity than risk,’ some members of NATO and Asia-Pacific countries perceive threats by China as ‘real’ threats, as seen in how the country expands its military capabilities, including nuclear. It is difficult for NATO to ignore ‘China’s influence or threat; thus, they gather like-minded countries to build strength, power, and trust in each other.