US envoy sees ‘dependent shift’ in NATO-Asia relations amid China challenges

by Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – The attendance of four Asia-Pacific leaders at a NATO summit reflects a “consequent shift” in the transatlantic U.S. security partnership that Washington seeks to expand to better confront China, a senior U.S. diplomat told Reuters.

In an interview in Seoul, Derek Chollet, a US State Department adviser who serves as a senior policy advisor to Secretary Anthony Blinken, said he sees “great potential” for South Korea-NATO cooperation, building on past exchanges including global efforts to help Ukraine and European countries Join the RIMPAC military exercises in Asia.

“I think one of the most important transformations we’ve seen over the decade is the growing relationship between our transatlantic partners and our partners here in the Indian Ocean,” Chollet said.

Last month, Yoon Seok-yeol became the first South Korean president to attend a NATO summit in Spain, as he looks to play a greater global role and forge European partnerships in the face of North Korea’s evolving nuclear threats.

The involvement of Yun and the leaders of Japan, Australia and New Zealand, as well as a newly adopted NATO concept of strategy that cited China as a concern for the first time, was “really historic” and “the beginning of what could be a very close partnership,” Chollet said.

“I vividly remember a decade ago trying to talk to European allies about the importance of the Indo-Pacific and having a hard time getting them to be able to pay so much attention. That has fundamentally changed,” he said.

“The basis or principle of our approach to China…aligning with partners and allies.”

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Scholet also hoped for stronger trilateral security cooperation between the United States, South Korea and Japan despite the tense relations between Seoul and Tokyo due to differences in the history of the war.

He said the death of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was a “horrific tragedy” and a “horrific murder”, but his legacy and vision for the Indian Ocean region could provide an opportunity to further revitalize the tripartite effort.

“There is a lot we can do together, whether it’s military exercises, or cooperation on issues like global health,” Schullet said.

“We strongly believe that it is in our interests and those of Japan and Korea to have strong relations between the two countries,” he added, pledging to help the two sides resolve differences if necessary.

(Reporting by Hyunhye Shin; Editing by Simon Cameron Moore)

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