In the geopolitical context, the AP-4 is a highway of alliances that this week connects four major democracies in Asia-Pacific with Madrid. For more than a decade, NATO huddles have used this informal nickname to refer to the most important group of global partners that the Atlantic Alliance has: Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. For the first time, the leaders of these countries will attend a NATO summit.
All of them share values with allies and are part of military, commercial and intelligence associations (Aukus, Quad and Five Eyes) led by the United States. They also have in common a strong economic locomotive and a sophisticated military. But their historical presence in Madrid is not due, precisely, to the democratic ties that unite them, but to their alignment with the West against Russia and their growing disputes with an assertive China in the region, which is expanding its influence every day and is expanded the military presence beyond its shores.
The NATO summit will largely focus on showing unity against Moscow and supporting Ukraine. But what happens in Asia-Pacific, with China always in the spotlight, will be high on the agenda.
Anthony Albanese (Australia) has landed in Madrid dragging the biggest diplomatic crisis with Beijing in more than a decade. Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand) is concerned about China’s expansion into the Pacific and that she may establish military bases in small island countries. Yoon Suk-yeol (South Korea) promised after winning the presidential election last March that he would draw a much tougher line with Beijing. And the government of Fumio Kishida (Japan) frequently denounces Chinese warplanes carrying out dangerous maneuvers near his country.
It is that current position of the four leaders that has given them a seat at the NATO table as invited guests. “The Indo-Pacific is one of the most dynamic regions in the world and is expected to be the engine of global economic and technological growth in the coming decades. It is also home to a great power, China, and this becomes more important as that the strategic competition between the United States, Russia and China becomes increasingly relevant on the international stage. The importance of the region and its impact on global affairs is increasingly perceived not only in the United States, but also in Europe” explains Mirna Galic, an analyst at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), financed by Washington.
“Asian partner countries have a long history of balancing economic and security imperatives with China, as well as rejecting violations of international law and dealing with coercive measures. Their intelligence and analysis on what is happening in the region is of great interest.” Galic continues. “Just as NATO sees benefits in engaging with partners in the Asia-Pacific on security issues, these countries also understand that NATO provides them with a convenient platform from which to closely monitor developments such as the war in Ukraine,” he says.
The analyst refers to the fact that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has given Asian countries a sense of vulnerability that they have not felt since the Cold War. Some of them share the belief that the way in which the West reacts to the Russian attack on Ukraine will be key to measuring China’s next moves in the region, including a future reunification of Taiwan by force, as they assiduously proclaim from Beijing.
In recent months, Asian democracies have been reaching out to NATO, working together on cyber security, maritime security programs and emerging technologies. Last month, Tokyo welcomed broader NATO involvement in the Indo-Pacific during a meeting between Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and NATO Military Committee chief Rob Bauer. “The security of Europe and Asia are closely intertwined, especially now that the international community is facing serious challenges,” Kishi said as the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force participated in NATO naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and Japanese fighter jets The US and US were conducting joint flight exercises over the Sea of Japan.
A few days ago, South Korea established its first diplomatic mission to NATO at its headquarters in Brussels. In May, the Seoul spy agency became the first in Asia to join NATO’s Cyber Defense Group, a cyber defense center established in 2008 after a Russian cyberattack crippled Estonia’s state networks.
“President Yoon Suk-yeol will seek to establish a comprehensive security network through the NATO summit amid unpredictable global situations,” announced South Korea’s national security adviser Kim Sung-han, who has also said that the South Korean president, who will meet with the leaders of the United States and Japan on Wednesday, hopes to discuss with his partners the threat of North Korea’s nuclear program.
From New Zealand, analysts interpret Jacinda Ardern’s attendance at the Madrid summit as a reward for aligning her foreign policy with the West, joining the sanctions against Russia and sending weapons to Ukraine. In Australia, Labor Party member Anthony Albanese, who won the elections in May, has just launched, together with the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Japan, an initiative to help the Pacific island nations – he will double his funding for aerial surveillance of the vast fishing area – in an effort to increase its presence in a region where China is increasingly expanding its diplomacy with huge investments.
“The war has united democratic nations and has shown that attempts to impose changes by force on a sovereign country are met with resistance,” Albanese said on the eve of the summit. The prime minister has also encouraged the Chinese government to “learn” the lessons of Russia’s “strategic failure” in Ukraine.
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