For the first time, the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand were invited together to the Atlantic Alliance summit. Showing solidarity with the West on the Ukrainian issue, they hoped that the organization would recognize that the Beijing regime also defies the liberal international order.
For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) included the leaders of four Asia-Pacific nations in some of its discussions. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl, and Japanese and Australian Prime Ministers Fumio Kishida and Anthony Albanese met at the NATO summit in Madrid with representatives of the 30 member states of the structure created after the Second World War to resist the rise of Soviet influence in Europe.
Although they are not involved in the delicate internal negotiations on the enlargement of the Atlantic Alliance and the organization of its military tools, they will try to make the Western powers aware of the strategic threat that they believe China poses to the Western world.
A continuum of threats:
Several of these democratic nations believe that Beijing’s growing aggressiveness in the Asia-Pacific region could quickly become a challenge to the liberal international order, comparable to that provoked by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. They point to the pressure on Taiwan, the Chinese regime’s claims to islands in the China Sea and the security agreements signed with small Pacific nations. For Japan, it is a question of showing that there is a sort of continuity of this threat from Russia to China, in a sort of quasi-alliance of authoritarian regimes,” explained Valérie Niquet, a researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Tokyo.
While most Asia-Pacific countries have refused to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, for fear of spoiling their ties with Moscow and Beijing or being questioned about the authoritarian excesses of their own regimes, Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand have taken very clear positions against the invasion and released various aid packages for Kiev.
Washington increases its military support to Ukraine
They now hope that this “solidarity” will be noticed, especially by the United States, which imposes itself as the only guarantor of security in the Indo-Pacific. “By standing firm with Nato on a European issue, Fumio Kishida hopes that the organization will show reciprocity in the future in East Asia,” confirms international relations specialist Akitoshi Miyashita of Tokyo International University.
Within NATO, however, not all nations support the idea of expanding the alliance’s missions away from Europe. “The organization has neither the vocation nor the means to become involved in the Indo-Pacific,” says a European diplomat in Japan. “France notes in particular that an expansion of NATO’s interests in the region would require colossal resources in operational matters that the member countries do not have.” noted Valérie Niquet. And the local democracies would have difficulty ensuring this effort. Japan, which is very upset about the Chinese threat, is in no way willing to engage in a regional armed conflict, particularly because of its peaceful constitution.
If the Chinese government knows full well that Nato will have difficulty in influencing the area, it is taking advantage of the Madrid summit to accuse, once again, the United States and its European allies of fuelling a surge in international tensions. “What NATO must do is abandon the Cold War mindset and the practice of creating images of the enemy. After the unrest in Europe, Nato countries should abandon their attempts to destabilize Asia and the world,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday.