By Prof. Silverio Allocca (DIPLOMATICINFO.COM GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST)
NATO, after several attempts pursued in the past years aimed at creating a united front similar to it in the Pacific region starting from emphasizing the perception of the Chinese threat, attempts that were unsuccessful also due to a weakening of Japan’s position pursued by China, is now trying again with a direct initiative, described as worrying by China Daily , which is a clear signal of the willingness of the United States to extend its reach to the Asia-Pacific region.
Specifically, NATO is reportedly planning to open a liaison office in Japan, the first of its kind in Asia, designed as part of the strategy put in place to address China’s geopolitical challenges to the transatlantic military alliance.
The proposed office, according to Wednesday’s Nikkei Asia news agency, which in turn quoted Japanese and NATO officials, is expected to be opened in Tokyo in 2024 to facilitate, according to the wishes of the Atlantic Alliance’s top leadership, dialogue with partners in the region , namely the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the revitalization of Japan’s role.
To date, China has benefited from the end of the era of that Trilateral Commission that has so far discounted the effects of the structural crisis that, with the advent of the globalization era, has progressively undermined the very assumptions of Japanese centrality in that Asian quadrant that has increasingly become a place characterized by the expansionist aims of the People’s Republic of China, i.e., that industrial giant of such dimensions as to be rightly considered as the veritable “factory of the world.”
Indeed, as is well known, at the plenary meeting of the Trilateral Commission held in Washington DC on June 10-12, 2022 – and attended, strictly in their personal capacity, by hundreds of key business figures, government authorities, distinguished academic, media and civil society figures from all over the world, and which did not by chance have as its objective the promotion among participants of discussion and dialogue on key issues of the international community arising from the changes taking place in the world, the systemic approach of a new era for European and transatlantic security, the implications of the war in Ukraine as well as the state of U.S. policy, global inflation, the impact of pandemic and war on globalization, the energy crisis, and, dulcis in fundo-a rather bitter dulcis for Japan-from the new approach to the Indo-Pacific area-the role of Secretariat for Asia and the Pacific has been entrusted to the JCIE- Japan Centre for the International Exchange more as a tribute to the memory of what was Japan’s leadership in the Indo-Pacific area.
An area, the latter, now increasingly important not only because of the percentage of energy sources and global goods that transit along its sea routes, but also because it is the main theater of the growing strategic rivalry between China and the United States .
In this sense a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that distant 1973, the year of the Commission’s ‘launch’, in which -as indeed in the years that followed- the role of the Secretariat for Japan was not only entrusted to the JCIE in its own right, but also subsequently changed to its current one of Secretariat for Asia and the Pacific in homage to what happened in August 2007 when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking to the Indian Parliament, introduced the idea of seeing the two oceans as one contiguous space .
Subsequently, and to be exact through 2021, Japan still had some primary role left to play in that QUAD-the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the United States, Japan, Australia, and India-that had progressively gained new momentum, so much so that there was even talk of a possible Asian NATO.
In fact, in March 2021, a first leader-level summit had been held, not surprisingly, which, in addition to emphasizing a commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” strongly criticized by Beijing, had also focused on the Quad’s plans for cooperation on health, climate change, and critical and emerging technologies, all of which appeared somewhat fanciful, especially with regard to the room for maneuver of a Japan grappling with a systemic and structural crisis with unpredictable developments that sees the Asian country well ill-equipped to deal with fundamental issues, such as the one described by a report of the Trilateral Commission’s Task Force on Global Capitalism in Transition with the theme “A New Spirit of Capitalism”, given even just the corporate governance issues that have emerged from the analysis of the Toshiba crisis that reconcile poorly with any leadership, or privileged strategic partnership.
Not to mention the image damage of certain revelations that take us back to Fukushima and the loss of credibility not only of Japanese business but, by extension, of the government for the coverage given to a certain modus operandi denounced by an article that appeared on the website greenme.it on December 22, 2011 with the signature of Roberta Ragni and the very eloquent title “Fukushima, mafia and lies: secrets revealed by an undercover journalist”; and confirmed by a subsequent article by Luca Miele that appeared on Avvenire.it on January 6, 2014 with the title “Japan. Cleanup at Fukushima, Yakuza enlists homeless” (which took its cue from a report edited by journalists, Mari Saito and Antoni Slodkowski ) from which it was learned of the infiltration of three Yakuza organizations (Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa- kai) in the operations intended for the cleanup of radioactive waste in order to grab a large slice of the USD 35Bn allocated by the Japanese government to finance the operation: the surfacing tip of an iceberg and not a mere episode given the actors involved.
Now, perhaps as a consequence of the changed orientation of U.S. policy influenced in no small part also by the recent resourcefulness of Chinese diplomacy in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, NATO would seem intent on passing over certain thorny contingencies and relaunching its longtime ally in the Pacific area.
This is to move quickly to counterattack in a move that requires us to assess the dispute with Beijing also in light of considerations that transcend the specific and contingent regional interests: what is confronted here, in fact, are simply two Great Powers, but two ways of reading and designing the future regardless of the actors inasmuch as what is about to begin here is a fierce clash between those who advocate a turnaround, at most regionalist but still monopolar and no longer globalist, in planetary political-economic balances and relations (the United States) and those who see a future all under the banner of multipolarism framed in a globalized context (China, India, to some extent-though ambiguously-Russia and once the defunct EU).
In this sense, the joint statements by Japanese PM Fumio Kishida and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, in his capacity as Washington’s spokesman and as such an advocate of greater transatlantic cooperation (resulting in a Stars and Stripes dominance), released in January this year on the occasion of Stoltenberg’s visit to Japan and having as their theme the purpose of strengthening ties in the face of “historic” security challenges posed by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and China’s “growing military power,” have found their first concrete form in the recent announcement.
In its “Strategic Concept” of 2022 , NATO stated that China poses “systemic challenges” to transatlantic security and promised to “strengthen dialogue and cooperation with new and existing partners in the Indo-Pacific region to address interregional challenges and shared security interests”.
The leverage used to justify its strategic focus toward the Asia-Pacific and NATO’s efforts to extend its reach to the region with the specific intent of moving against China, has been fear of Russia, a fear legitimized today indirectly precisely by Beijing given that in practice Moscow is currently inextricably linked to the PRC and unable to operate without regard to the needs of that Xi Jinping which in fact guarantees its economic survival.
This is the U.S. strategy that also emerged from the words of U.S. Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who in a recent interview told Foreign Affairs magazine that the U.S. military must become stronger to deter a war with China and that the U.S. must be careful not to push China and Russia into a military alliance: in other words, “The problem is conflict and war”.
Beyond all possible considerations, even the most optimistic, the planned opening of a NATO liaison office in Tokyo does not bode well for peace and regional stability, nor does that particular link with China that has recently emerged that sees Ukraine as a, at this point ambiguous, historic supporter of the “One China” project.
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