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TOKYO: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday stressed the importance of NATO’s working closely with partners in the Indo-Pacific, saying Europe could not ignore what happens in East Asia because the global security is interconnected.

“Working with partners around the world, especially in the Indo-Pacific, is part of the answer to a more dangerous and unpredictable world,” Stoltenberg said at an event hosted by Keio University.

“The war in Ukraine demonstrates how security is interconnected. It demonstrates that what happens in Europe has a consequence for East Asia, and what happens in East Asia matters to Europe,” he said, adding that “the idea China doesn’t matter for NATO doesn’t work.”

Stoltenberg made the comments as part of a visit to Japan, during which he pledged to strengthen ties with Tokyo to navigate an increasingly tense security environment triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its growing military cooperation with China.

Although he said China was not an adversary, the NATO chief said the country was becoming a “more and more authoritarian power” that was displaying assertive behaviour, threatening Taiwan, and developing military capabilities that could also reach NATO countries.

“We are more than ready to further strengthen and expand the partnership with countries in this region,” he added. China rejected the claims by Stoltenberg, saying that it has always been a defender of peace and stability.

“On the one hand, NATO claims that its position as a regional defensive alliance remains unchanged, while on the other hand, it continues to break through traditional defense zones and areas, continuously strengthen military security ties with Asia-Pacific countries and exaggerate the threat of China,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in a regular briefing held Wednesday.

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“I want to emphasise that the Asia-Pacific is not a battlefield for geopolitical rivalry and confrontation between the camps with Cold War mentality is not welcomed,” she added. Before his stop in Japan, Stoltenberg visited South Korea and urged Seoul to increase military support to Ukraine, giving similar warnings about rising tensions with China.

China has criticised NATO’s efforts to expand its alliances in Asia. Russia, which calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special operation”, has repeatedly cast NATO’s expansion as a threat to its security.

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