The United States is defining the limits of NATO’s outreach in the Indo-Pacific region, saying its focus on challenges posed by China does not signal an intention to invite Asian nations to join the bloc.
Speaking Wednesday on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Lithuania, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told VOA, “We’re not adding members from the Indo-Pacific.”
“We’re breaking down barriers between America’s Atlantic allies and America’s Pacific allies to look at common challenges like cybersecurity, emerging and disruptive technology, maritime security,” she said. “There’s a whole array of issues where we can learn from one another without bringing anyone from the Indo-Pacific formally into the alliance.”
Beijing criticized this week’s joint NATO statement that said China challenges the groups’ interests and security with “coercive policies.” A Chinese diplomat said the communique disregarded facts and misrepresented Beijing’s position.
NATO countries signed on to the joint statement that underscored that “stated ambitions and coercive policies” of the People’s Republic of China, or PRC, have “challenged the alliance’s interests, security and values.”
“The PRC employs a broad range of political, economic and military tools to increase its global footprint and project power, while remaining opaque about its strategy, intentions and military buildup,” the group’s leaders said in their communique.
Beijing quickly rejected the claims. Instead of reflecting on its own responsibilities, NATO “has been making groundless accusations, meddling in affairs beyond its borders and creating confrontation,” a spokesperson for the Chinese Mission to the European Union said in a statement Tuesday.
NATO has sent mixed signals about whether to open a liaison office in Japan, the first of its kind in Asia. France has opposed it saying the bloc should keep focused on the North Atlantic, but NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said this week that it’s still up for discussion.
China has warned NATO against what it has called an “eastward movement into the Asia-Pacific region” and vowed to deliver a “resolute response” to actions that jeopardize its “legitimate rights and interests.”
In a speech in front of thousands of Lithuanians, President Joe Biden made no direct mention of China but alluded to themes commonly used by his administration in describing Beijing’s violation of international rules and norms.
Biden said nations must work together to safeguard rights and freedoms needed to protect “the flow of ideas and commerce” that “have enabled decades of global growth.” He said it was necessary to respect territorial integrity and sovereignty, “but also principles like freedom of navigation, and overflight, keeping our shared seas and skies open so that every nation has equal access to our global common space.”
As NATO committed to work together to address the systemic challenges posed by the PRC to Euro-Atlantic security, the most important action the alliance can take is to stay unified, said Mark Kennedy, director of the Wahba Institute of Strategic Competition at the Wilson Center.
“That was exhibited in the communique,” he told VOA. “The key will be to translate these commitments into reality.”
Indo-Pacific partners attended the summit amid concerns about rising tension in the region from increasing Chinese military activities and threats from North Korea. On Wednesday, Pyongyang tested a suspected long-range ballistic missile.
This is the second time the Indo-Pacific partners have participated in the gathering of North Atlantic leaders, after last year’s NATO summit in Madrid. Participating leaders included Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.
Smith pointed to an initiative called the Individually Tailored Partnership Program, or ITPP, that NATO struck with Japan as an example of deepening ties with Indo-Pacific partners.
Collaboration will go beyond traditional security areas and extend to cyber, emerging and disruptive technologies, and strategic communications, Kishida said Wednesday about the deal.
Speaking alongside Stoltenberg, Kishida said the new arrangement is a response to challenges in the international security environment.
“Japan and NATO share the understanding that unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion will not be tolerated, regardless of where they occur in the world,” Kishida said.
In May, as he hosted the Group of Seven summit of the world’s wealthiest democracies in Hiroshima, Kishida emphasized that Japan has no plans to become a NATO member.
Beijing pushed back against NATO’s assessment of its “deepening strategic partnership” with Russia, which said the two countries are involved in “mutually reinforcing attempts to undercut the rules-based international order.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin urged NATO to “quit the outdated Cold War mentality” and stop seeking to “sow chaos here in the Asia-Pacific or elsewhere in the world.”
Wang criticized NATO’s condemnation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, saying the alliance is “not a party to the Korean Peninsula issues.” He blamed the West’s military deterrence and “double standards on nuclear nonproliferation” as counterproductive to settling Korean Peninsula issues.
While Beijing has not provided lethal aid to Moscow, observers say its growing trade ties with Moscow have helped sustain the Russian economy, offsetting the effects of international sanctions.
VOA’s Celia Mendoza and Jorge Agobian contributed to this report.