The North Korean government has accused the United States, Japan, and South Korea of conspiring to form an “Asian NATO,” following the two Asian nations’ attendance at the annual NATO summit in Madrid and the announcement of upcoming joint military exercises between the three countries.
At the Madrid summit, President Joe Biden is expected to meet with Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol, marking the first three-way summit between the leaders since 2017, when President Donald Trump met Japanese leader Shinzo Abe and Korean leader Moon Jae-in, Yoon’s predecessor, in New York. The three nations also regularly participate in the “Pacific Dragon” exercises near Hawaii; the latest iteration of the exercise is scheduled to take place in August.
The North Korean-run Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, accused the Japanese and Korean leaders of “sinister aims” following their visit to Madrid, suggesting that the United States was pushing them to form an “Asian version of NATO.”
“The U.S. is getting hell-bent on the military cooperation with its stooges, in disregard of the primary security … concern[s] by Asia-Pacific countries,” the KCNA’s report read, referring to Japan and South Korea, which officials in Pyongyang have long argued are American client states.
“The scheme for formation of the U.S.-Japan-South Korea military alliance, motivated by Japan’s and South Korea’s kowtowing to the U.S., is evidently a dangerous prelude to the creation of [an] ‘Asian version of NATO,’” it continued.
In reality, many experts have discounted the possibility of an “Asian NATO” due to mutual animosity between Japan and South Korea, which would inevitably form the core of such an alliance. During Japan’s thirty-five-year occupation and colonial administration of the Korean Peninsula, Japanese officials were implicated in a litany of human rights abuses against the native population. Japan has never fully reckoned with its imperial past, and many Koreans have expressed frustration with Tokyo’s reluctance to engage with the issue of Korean forced labor, including “comfort women” subjected to sexual slavery during World War II.
The two countries have grown marginally closer despite historical antagonism in recent years. Provocations from North Korea, which counts both as major adversaries, and pressure from the United States, which considers both Seoul and Tokyo “major non-NATO allies,” have urged them to work together more closely. Both Yoon and Kishida have committed to working closely with the United States, and the two leaders expressed hopes for better relations during their brief meeting in Madrid, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.