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“Asian New NATO” Escalates Bloc Confrontation

Apr 30, 2024
  • Luo Liang

    Assistant Research Fellow, National Institute for South China Sea Studies

On April 11, leaders of the Untied States, Japan and the Philippines held what was touted as their “historic” first summit in Washington. Their joint vision statement attracted wide attention. As security conditions become increasingly complex in the Asia-Pacific, the U.S.-Japan-Philippines summit showed that the three countries are no longer content with the status quo — individual connections, with the U.S. as the pivot point. The U.S. has created another mini-multilateral framework, the main theme of which remains strengthening containment of China and winning the strategic competition.

This illustrates the significant truth that against the backdrop of the ongoing Ukraine crisis and Palestine-Israel conflict, U.S. strategic inputs have not decreased but rather increased in the Asia-Pacific region.

In recent years, the United States has managed to influence NATO to see China as a systemic challenge, and accelerated intervention into Asia-Pacific affairs. While striving to promote NATO involvement in the Asia-Pacific, it has intensified efforts to induce such allies as Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines to form a regional alliance regime by means of its Indo-Pacific Strategy, making every effort to forge an “Asia-Pacific New NATO,” by escalating bloc confrontation.

This Asian edition of NATO, under various names, represents an attempt by the U.S. to build a NATO-like parallel organization in the region.

During his tenure as vice president, Joe Biden had been dedicated to a solid trilateral military alliance comprising the U.S., Japan and the Republic of Korea. That mission was not accomplished, thanks to the historical feud and territorial disputes between Japan and the ROK. Their relations improved significantly after conservative forces in the ROK regained national leadership.

Leaders of the U.S., Japan and the ROK held a summit meeting at Camp David last year, the goal of which was to integrate the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-ROK alliances into a U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral military alliance. Although the parties denied that this was an important step toward building an Asian New NATO, judging from their regular joint military drills, consultation mechanisms, intelligence-sharing and coordinated response, the depth of trilateral cooperation surpassed that of AUKUS and the Quad.

It is worth mentioning that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol will travel to Washington again in July for another meeting of the three countries’ leaders on the sidelines of the NATO summit there. This will accelerate the implementation of trilateral alliance mechanisms.

The momentum of U.S. efforts to consolidate ties with its Asia-Pacific allies and accelerate the formation of an Asia-Pacific New NATO will not only make up for the uncertainties of the coming general election in the U.S. but may at the same time boost Biden’s approval ratings on the campaign trail. As many have observed, the underlying logic of an Asia-Pacific NATO involves Cold War thinking, creating conflict and confrontation, hyping security threats and sabotaging peace and stability in the region.

It deserves mention that such projects as the Luzon Economic Corridor, which was announced at the summit, are meant to restructure regional industrial chains and build a circle that excludes China economically. In the same way as the TPP and IPEF, which the U.S. proposed under its strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific Strategy, they are aimed at enhancing leadership and forging alliance circles at the security and economic levels.

Despite the impressive momentum of U.S. endeavors for building mini-multilateral mechanisms, there are practical tensions between the U.S. and its Asia-Pacific allies when it comes to security cooperation. The curtain on U.S. general elections has been raised, and a fundraising war has entered a white-hot stage. Once the U.S. fails to honor its alleged “rock-solid” commitments to allies, their different security threat perceptions, economic interests and regional strategic goals will present themselves to different extents. This is understandable, as Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. claimed that security collaboration with Japan and the U.S. is proceeding “very smoothly.” He has gone a long way in executing “tough diplomacy,” and accelerating overseas security cooperation.

In March, the Philippine Ministry of Defense declared that over the past year it had signed or aimed to discuss new security agreements with at least 18 countries, including Australia, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. The goal is to make the Philippines a part of the strongest security network in Asia.

Under the banner of “peace and security,” the U.S.-Japan-Philippines summit discussed maritime affairs involving China, with the South China Sea attracting particular interest in overseas media reports. They hyped up and stigmatized alleged “aggressive” Chinese actions against the Philippines, emphasized that the Mutual Defense Treaty between the U.S. and Philippines applies to South China Sea disputes,  urged China to abide by the South China Sea tribunal arbitration and cheered for Philippine infringements in the disputes.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi began a string of visits to Indonesia, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea on April 18. In Jakarta, Indonesia, he highlighted the need to be highly vigilant to the “small circles” emerging in the region. He expressed opposition to any moves to instigate confrontation. He said China cherished the hard-earned peace and stability and wanted to build the South China Sea into a “sea of peace.” Wang’s remarks were a reply to the recent U.S. attempts to escalate bloc confrontation via mini-multilateral mechanisms.

Since November, Chinese and U.S. leaders met in San Francisco and later talked on the phone. The two governments have resumed high-level visits, held the first round of bilateral consultation on maritime affairs and resumed dialogue on maritime military security. People from all walks of life expect China-U.S. relations to show signs of stabilizing. Yet Washington has launched 301 investigations on the heels of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s China visit, and a U.S. Navy P-8A maritime patrol aircraft carried out a high-profile overflight above the Taiwan Strait immediately after Chinese and U.S. defense chiefs talked via video-link. If Washington continues talking the talk without walking the walk, how can there be substantial changes in China-U.S. relations?  Nobody knows.

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