Washington and NATO Shifts Focus to Indo-Pacific Amidst Ukrainian Crisis: A Bid to Contain China’s Influence

As the Ukrainian conflict continues to pose challenges, the United States is swiftly attempting to divert the spotlight from the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius. With the ‘counteroffensive’ showing signs of stagnation and no solid promises of Ukraine’s NATO membership, a genuine division has emerged within the alliance, particularly regarding the supply of cluster munitions. Germany, Britain, and Spain have expressed opposition to Biden’s stance on this matter.

In an abrupt turn, Washington is now refocusing the summit’s agenda from Ukraine to the Indo-Pacific region. Notably, “observers” from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan have been invited to Vilnius with the purpose of persuading Europeans to engage in a closer relationship with China.

Initially established to deter Soviet tanks and missiles in Europe, NATO is now also involved in countering China’s global ambitions. However, this expansion of NATO’s mission has raised concerns among some members about potential mission creep, while Beijing has accused the alliance of provoking confrontation, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

For the second consecutive year, leaders from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan—collectively known as the Asia-Pacific Four—will attend the annual NATO summit meeting, set to take place next week in Lithuania. Discussions at the summit will focus on strengthening cooperation in areas such as maritime security and cybersecurity, with the challenges posed by China at the forefront of their minds.

NATO leaders assert that China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, a vital trade route handling trillions of dollars of global trade annually, as well as its expanding nuclear arsenal and cyber warfare capabilities, pose concerns not only for Asian nations but also for Europe and North America.

“NATO is and will remain a regional alliance of North America and Europe,” stated NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. He further emphasized, “But this region faces global threats, and we have to address them together with our global partners.”

NATO’s concerns over China’s ambitions and coercive policies stem from Beijing’s military buildup, economic coercion tactics, and its strategic alliance with Russia. In October of the previous year, around a dozen NATO military officials held discussions with their Taiwanese counterparts to assess China’s military capabilities following the Communist Party Congress.

Prior to the NATO summit in Madrid last June, defense chiefs from the Asia-Pacific Four countries joined a meeting of the NATO Military Committee, the principal advisory board to NATO commanders. While worries about China permeate among NATO countries, some members are apprehensive about an expanded role, particularly due to the strain on military resources caused by the Ukrainian conflict.

Although several NATO countries, including the U.K., have conducted naval exercises in the Asia-Pacific region in recent years, diplomats suggest that certain members remain cautious about losing focus on Russia and escalating tensions with China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin criticized NATO’s involvement in the region, stating, “We have seen NATO bent on going east into this region, interfering in regional affairs, and inciting bloc confrontation.”

Engaging in joint exercises between NATO and the Asia-Pacific Four serves not only as a response to China’s actions but also as preparation for future crises. The U.K. and Japan have agreed to enhance their military collaboration, permitting more joint training earlier this year, thus strengthening their collective readiness.

As the Ukrainian crisis unfolds, NATO’s strategic shift towards the Indo-Pacific region aims to contain China’s influence and address the challenges posed by its military assertiveness, economic tactics, and partnership with Russia. The decision, while met with concerns from within the alliance, reflects the growing recognition of China as a global threat that demands a united response from NATO and its partners.

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