South China Morning Post
January 29, 2023

As Nato chief visits South Korea and Japan, China will be high on agenda

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg’s trip to South Korea and Japan next week is expected to lay the groundwork for their Indo-Pacific security partnership to guard against a “systemic challenge” from China.

Stoltenberg will meet South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol during the four-day trip that begins in Seoul on Sunday…He will also meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo.

As well as Yoon, the Nato secretary general is expected to meet South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin and other senior officials while in Seoul. [A] Yonhap report said US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin would also visit South Korea next week.

Stoltenberg’s trip comes after the unprecedented attendance of the South Korean and Japanese leaders at a Nato summit in Madrid in June, when the military alliance labelled China as a “systemic challenge to Euro-Atlantic security” in a key strategy document.

Yoon and Kishida also met US President Joe Biden for a trilateral summit on the sidelines of the Madrid talks, the first time leaders of the three nations had met since 2017.

Both South Korea and Japan have sought to step up ties with Nato….

Choo Jae-woo, a professor of Chinese studies at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, said that during the trip Stoltenberg would likely discuss the countries’ goals in their Indo-Pacific strategy, with the conversation focusing largely on China.

He expected the talks to be “an icebreaker” that could see Stoltenberg planning for future dialogue on security and building communication channels with the two countries.


Yue Gang, a retired People’s Liberation Army colonel, said it was apparent that Nato was seeking to strengthen cooperation with non-member states in Asia. He said Beijing was likely to issue a “reminder” that the alliance does not have a legitimate claim and warn of the potential for regional instability.

“But if they take further action, especially militarily, [China] might also respond militarily,” Yue said….

…Choo said “China would not want to see Japan utilising or exploiting this opportunity to further enhance its military projections towards Nato”.