NATO's Japan office plan sparks concerns

2023-07-20 10:25:30China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Military bloc's expansion to aggravate tensions in Asia-Pacific, experts say

Experts questioned the significance of NATO's plans to open a liaison office in Japan as such a project is likely to aggravate preexisting tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

During a NATO summit held in Lithuania last week, French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated opposition to NATO's move to open a liaison office in Japan, alleging the alliance should focus on its responsibility of protecting the Euro-Atlantic area.

Since a unanimous agreement of all NATO members is required for the establishment of a new liaison office, a decision was not made at the summit. However, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the issue is still on the table and will be considered in the future.

The plan deviates significantly from NATO's original concept, and if pursued deliberately, it will fundamentally alter the nature of NATO, said Akira Yamada, a professor of modern Japanese history at Meiji University, as quoted by the Japanese daily newspaper Tokyo Shimbun.

Chen Xiang, an associate research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Japanese Studies, said NATO's eastward expansion will lead to mutual suspicion and distrust among countries in the Asia-Pacific region, reinforcing their independent strategies in security and military domains.

"Following the Russia-Ukraine conflict, countries in the Asia-Pacific region have made significant adjustments in their perception of the post-Cold War international situation.

"Some countries and regions in East Asia may feel anxious about NATO's eastward expansion, including its plans to open a new liaison office in Japan, which will lead to a tough response, thereby making the already tense and complex situation even more difficult to ease," Chen said.

Recently, there have been intensive diplomatic activities among the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea, aiming to make the Asia-Pacific region a focal point for strategic adjustments in major power competition.

Camp confrontation

"The U.S. is attempting to reshape the international order in the Asia-Pacific region since the Cold War and strengthen its objectives through strategic tools outside the region. This indicates that NATO's eastward expansion is likely to create a familiar scenario of camp confrontation in the region," Chen said.

Today, Asia has become one of the most important regions in the global supply chain and industrial chain, playing a crucial role in world peace and stable development.

"After expanding eastward into the Asia-Pacific region, NATO will inevitably interfere in regional affairs, disrupt peace and stability in the region, and trigger increased political and military sensitivities among countries in the region," Chen said.

At the regional level, a NATO office in Japan creates unease, said Jean-Loup Samaan, a senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore and a former research adviser at the NATO Defense College.

Like in Africa or the Middle East, the alliance suffers from a negative perception across Asia: the organization is usually seen as a mere extension of U.S. foreign policy. Some commentators fear NATO would spread to Asia a destructive militaristic culture. This reflects the desire of Southeast Asian countries, and also India, to avoid importing a Western template for Asia's security architecture, Samaan wrote on the website of The Diplomat.

NATO's expanding military presence and practical cooperation with "Indo-Pacific" countries will likely be interpreted as offensive and threatening and, in turn, elicit backlash and counterbalancing, including increased Sino-Russian collaboration and cooperation, said Kelly Grieco, a senior fellow with the Reimagining U.S. Grand Strategy Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, in an opinion piece published on The Diplomat website.

At the same time, NATO has little to contribute toward stability in the Asia-Pacific region. While the U.S. already maintains a large military presence, the force projection capabilities of its European partners are rather limited, said Mangantar Simon Hutagalung, who serves in Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an article in Nikkei Asia.


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