NATO chief urges South Korea to step up military support to Ukraine

  • NATO chief seeks closer relations with Asian allies
  • Urges South Korea to provide more military aid to Ukraine
  • He says China is also a challenge to “our values”

SEOUL (Reuters) – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged South Korea on Monday to increase military support to Ukraine, citing other countries that changed their policy of not providing weapons to countries in conflict in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

Stoltenberg was speaking in Seoul, the first stop on a trip that will also include Japan and is aimed at strengthening ties with Western allies in Asia in the face of the war in Ukraine and growing competition with China.

Speaking at the Chi Institute for Advanced Studies in Seoul, he thanked South Korea for its non-lethal aid to Ukraine, but urged it to do more, adding that there was an “urgent need” for ammunition.

“I urge the ROK to continue and intensify the issue of military support,” he said.

“At the end of the day it’s a decision you have to make, but I will say that many NATO allies who had a policy of never exporting weapons to countries in conflict have now changed that policy,” he said. Citing Germany, Sweden and Norway.

“If we don’t want tyranny and tyranny to win, then they (Ukrainians) need weapons, that’s the truth,” said Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister.

South Korea has signed major deals to provide hundreds of tanks, aircraft and other weapons to NATO member Poland since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But President Yoon Sok-yul said South Korean law banning the supply of arms to the conflicting countries made it difficult to send arms to Ukraine.

Russia described its invasion, which began on February 24, as a “special operation” to fend off threats to its security.

Stoltenberg also met with Yoon and Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, who have echoed calls for closer ties with NATO based on shared values, but have not publicly responded to calls for more military aid to Ukraine.

Chinese challenge

In meetings with senior South Korean officials, Stoltenberg said events in Europe and North America were interconnected with those in other regions, and that the alliance wanted to help manage global threats by increasing partnerships in Asia.

The NATO chief said it was “extremely important” that Russia does not win this war, not only for the Ukrainians but also to avoid sending the wrong message to authoritarian leaders, including in Beijing, that they can get what they want by force.

Although China is not a NATO adversary, it is becoming “much higher” on NATO’s agenda, he said, citing Beijing’s growing military capabilities and coercive behavior in the region.

“We believe we should engage with China on issues such as arms control, climate change and other issues,” he said. “But at the same time, we are very clear that China is a challenge to our values, our interests and our security.”

Asked about Stoltenberg’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said on Monday that China is a partner of countries, not a challenge, and that it does not threaten the interests or security of any country.

“We also hope NATO will abandon the Cold War mentality and concept of confronting blocs, and do more for the security and stability of Europe and the world,” Mao said at a regular press briefing.

In a statement carried by state media on Monday, North Korea described Stoltenberg’s visit as “a prelude to confrontation and war as it brings dark clouds of a ‘New Cold War’ to the Asia-Pacific region.”

South Korea last year opened its first diplomatic mission to NATO, pledging to deepen cooperation in non-proliferation, cyber defense, counter-terrorism, disaster response and other security areas.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is due in Seoul on Monday for talks with South Korean leaders.

(Reporting by Soo Hyang Choi) Additional reporting by Hana Song and Eduardo Baptista. Editing by Kim Coghill, Gerry Doyle, Gareth Jones and Sharon Singleton

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