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NATO In the Asia Pacific Offers Nothing Productive for The Region

“We are very clear that China poses a challenge to our values, to our interests and to our security,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during his tour to Asia in Seoul, South Korea. He’s dismissing a sustainable peace in the Asia Pacific. The strategy bypasses the Asia Pacific’s security concerns, while brandishing the discredited “China threat” theory to promote bloc confrontation and Cold War mentalities. Hence, NATO’s presence in the region offers nothing productive for the Asia Pacific.

His trip to Seoul follows a visit to Tokyo, Japan. The “China threat” reference has exposed the duplicity of the alliance’s approach towards peace. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, NATO cannot claim to be a regional defensive alliance by pursuing military expansionism and breaking defense zones, which have historically guarded the Asia Pacific from escalation.

Meanwhile, NATO has also offered nothing to the Asia Pacific beyond pinning up regional states against China. It’s essentially bringing similar bloc to bloc confrontation, which has undermined peace in Europe to the Asia Pacific. 

Stoltenberg added that China has come much “higher” on NATO’s agenda. Nonetheless, the alliance is suffering from a lack of credibility. Internal schisms are evident as the majority of its European member states do not support confronting China nor labeling Beijing as a threat.

At the G7 Leaders’ Summit of 2022 for example, countries including France and Germany opposed confrontations with China and vouched for safeguarding European interests, which endorses stronger trade ties with Beijing.

These views agree with the sentiments of countries in the Asia Pacific where despite differences, no country desires to pursue military adventurism that undermines deterrence stability in the region. Philippine President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr. at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has categorically stated that U.S. military bases of Subic Bay and Clark will not be reopened, since it goes against his country’s constitution to allow foreign bases on its soil. 

Yet, NATO pursues Cold War mentalities and expects regional states to toe its line on regional security. The NATO Chief’s Asia tour is less about promoting cooperative security frameworks and more in line with mustering support for Ukraine against Russia. Again, this strategy is divisive in a region where the vast majority of Asia Pacific states vouch for neutrality as part of their respective foreign policies.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at the CHEY Institute for Advanced Studies in Seoul, South Korea, January 30, 2023. /VCG

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at the CHEY Institute for Advanced Studies in Seoul, South Korea, January 30, 2023. /VCG

In Seoul, Stoltenberg urged South Korea to provide direct arms exports to Kyiv, despite a South Korean presidential decree that enforces the country’s Foreign Trade Act, which states that exports can only be used for “peaceful purposes” and “shall not affect international peace, safety maintenance, and national security.” This demonstrates NATO’s limited understanding of sovereign priorities.

On China, the policy of encircling Beijing which has been pursued by the United States is translating into NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg hyping up the China threat to gain traction. Not once has the NATO Chief in Seoul called for dialogues to de-escalate hostilities to maintain peace and stability in the region.

Instead during a question and answer session at the CHEY Institute for Advanced Studies in Seoul, Stoltenberg argued that China poses a threat to shared values and interests as a reference to values of the Asia Pacific. This ignores the realities that define the region as China, like all countries in the region, believe in pragmatism instead of confrontation. 

In light of this, regional states should maintain equilibrium that is anchored in regional connectivity. According to Professor Li Haidong from the Institute of International Affairs at the China Foreign Affairs University, it’s imperative that China and regional partners maintain regional connectivity with a vision of a shared future.

The Asia Pacific remains a highly integrated region and should not be converted into a backyard for geopolitical powerplays. In the first year of the enforcement of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, trade between China and the ASEAN region grew by 15 percent while both imports and exports totaled $970 million. Additionally, as per foreign direct investment trends in the Asia Pacific in 2022/2023, sub regions recorded a 54 percent increase in attracting Greenfield foreign direct investment.

source: news.cgtn