(Yonhap Interview) NATO chief calls for stronger security ties with S. Korea to address China, other global challenges
By Chung Bin-na and Song Sang-ho
BRUSSELS, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) -- North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized the importance of beefing up cooperation between NATO and South Korea to counter China's growing military assertiveness and other global threats, highlighting the interconnectedness of security beyond geographical boundaries.
In an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Friday ahead of a trip to Northeast Asia, Stoltenberg called North Korea a "threat to global security" and presented a vision for partnerships between South Korea and NATO on cybersecurity, technology and arms control.
He is scheduled to arrive in Seoul on Sunday for a two-day stay, during which he will meet with President Yoon Suk Yeol and other South Korean government officials.
"The most important message is that I strongly believe that we need to strengthen the partnership between Korea and NATO because security becomes more and more interconnected," he said with regard to his upcoming trip to Seoul. "What happens in Asia, the Indo Pacific, matters for Europe and NATO, and vice versa."
The Yoon administration has notably sought to deepen Seoul's ties with the transatlantic alliance, as demonstrated in the establishment of its diplomatic mission to NATO last November and the president's attendance at a NATO summit last June.
Underscoring NATO's pursuit of closer cooperation with Indo-Pacific partners, Stoltenberg highlighted threats from China, a country that the alliance identified for the first time as a security challenge in its key strategic document last year.
"China is investing heavily in new modern military capabilities -- long-range missiles that can reach all NATO territory -- and is significantly and rapidly expanding their nuclear capabilities," he said. "We see how China is also coercing and intimidating countries, for instance in the South China Sea region, and it matters for global trade and for the freedom of navigation."
The NATO helmsman's Asia swing is expected to draw particular attention in China, with Beijing apparently wary of NATO's deepening regional engagement beyond its transatlantic scope amid an intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry.
Stoltenberg said that NATO will remain the "regional alliance of North America and Europe," but stressed "our region is affected by global threats and challenges beyond our region."
"We need to address these global threats and challenges, including the challenges coming from China, and one way of doing that is, of course, to work more closely with partners in the region," he stressed.
On concerns that following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, an emboldened China could seek to bring Taiwan under its control, Stoltenberg noted authoritarian world leaders are "watching carefully to what extent Russian President Vladimir Putin succeeds in the war of aggression."
"If President Putin wins in Ukraine, then the message will be that when President Putin or other authoritarian leaders use brutal military force and violate international law, then they achieve what they want," he said.
He added, "It will also be dangerous for all of us, including Korea, because then the message is that the use of force is something that is a way for authoritarian leaders to achieve their goals. And of course, Taiwan is an example."
Stoltenberg described North Korea as a global security threat, citing reports of North Korea's support for Russia in the Ukraine war.
"We see how the volunteer group, which plays an important part of the Russian war of aggression, has received ammunition missiles from North Korea," he said. "Of course, North Korea is a threat to the whole region but also is a threat to global security."
He was referring to Washington's announcement that the North has delivered an arms shipment to a private Russian military company, called the Wagner Group, for use in the Ukraine war -- a charge denied by Pyongyang.
He said he is looking forward to talking with Yoon in Seoul this week on such areas of bilateral cooperation as cybersecurity and technologies.
He also expressed his intention to invite Yoon to this year's NATO summit, while portraying Yoon's participation in the Madrid summit last year as a "historic" event given that he was the first South Korean president to attend a NATO summit.
"We may be oceans apart, but we are very close when it comes to values, the support for democracy and freedom, and also the fact that we face many of the same threats and challenges," he said.
Touching on the sensitive issue of whether South Korea needs a nuclear-sharing policy with the United States, akin to NATO's Nuclear Planning Group, to counter North Korean threats, Stoltenberg said "extended deterrence" by Washington "has worked" for many years and highlighted the NATO allies' "important" goal of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
"I think it's more for Korea and the United States to decide," he said, pointing out that NATO's aim is "a world without nuclear weapons."
He added, "As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance because a world -- where China, Russia and North Korea have nuclear weapons, but NATO allies do not -- that's a more dangerous world."
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