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Is The US Creating a Mini NATO in Asia?

There are two questions on the agenda as President Joe Biden hosts a trilateral summit at Camp David this weekend with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, Fumio Kishida and Yoon Suk Yeol, respectively. Can Biden draw the two countries, which have a long history of enmity and warfare, into a fruitful alliance? And will that alliance become a “mini NATO” located in Asia?

The U.S. has been allied with both countries individually, The New York Times reported, but there are “historic animosities” stemming from Japan’s “brutal” decades-long occupation of the Korean peninsula ending in 1945. But Yoon has made “moves toward rapprochement” that have led to hopes for a “closer, more enduring alignment.” That new alignment would include a “commitment to consult” on security threats. 

Such a commitment has drawn the ire of Chinese officials and foreign policy experts who see the arrangement as a mini NATO alliance intended to cement American dominance in Asia, China’s Global Times reported. Voice of America added that North Korean officials have also accused Biden of “cooking up the Asian version of NATO” with this week’s summit. U.S. officials, though, say the alliance between the three summit countries will “fall short” of a formal military alliance.

What the commentators are saying

Yes, the trilateral summit is aimed at “bolstering security partnerships amid increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific,” Chad de Guzman wrote at Time. But the region is “too diverse politically and economically” for a NATO-style alliance, one expert told de Guzman. Some Asian countries, like Cambodia and Myanmar, are in China’s camp. Others, like India, are carefully avoiding taking sides for or against either the U.S. or China. But the most critical factor weighing against an Asian NATO is the region’s “economic reliance on China.” Besides, as another expert stated, the war in Ukraine shows “you don’t need to be a member of NATO to get NATO-like support.”

The “biggest prize” of this summit would be a NATO-style acknowledgment that an “attack on one is an attack on all,” Bloomberg editorialized. Such a statement would certainly draw notice from China and North Korea; it would also be “powerful and hard to renounce.” Japan and South Korea deserve credit for trying to resolve their old disputes. “The task for the countries’ leaders now is to solidify their alliance before sentiment shifts again.”

“China will be livid” at the new trilateral alliance, Daniel R. DePetris wrote for The Interpreter. It believes Washington is creating a closer relationship with Japan and South Korea because it “sees deeper U.S.-South Korea-Japan military ties as indispensable to containing Chinese power.” Similarly, while the U.S. has “no intention of invading North Korea,” leader Kim Jong-un is convinced of the threat. This means those two countries may cement their relationships with Russia in response to this week’s summit. The message to the White House? “If you want a confrontation between blocs, then that’s precisely what you will get.”

What’s next?

The meeting probably will “not result in a NATO-style collective defense pact,” The Washington Post reported, but the three leaders are “expected to affirm publicly for the first time that their nations’ security is linked.” According to one scholar, “The message is the three can’t be divided and conquered.” That means the three countries will conduct annual joint military exercises and begin “robust” information sharing on the North Korean nuclear threat.

Similarly, the summit will also result in a three-nation line to enable the three countries to communicate more easily during times of crisis, Nikkei Asia reported. “We’re going to invest in technology to have a three-way hotline for the leaders and others inside their governments to communicate,” said a member of the White House National Security Council. 

China, of course, is not happy about this development. Beijing “opposes practices that exacerbate confrontation and jeopardize the strategic security of other countries,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. And every step the U.S. takes to fortify alliances in Asia will probably produce a similar response from China, one scholar told the South China Morning Post. “It appears that the two sides are containing each other.” 

Source : The Week