Friday, June 21, 2024

Growing Pressure from NATO on China

Washington, DCChina has been included in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) “Strategic Concept,” adopted at the bloc’s summit in Madrid, Spain, on 29-30 June for the first time. The ‘strategic concept’ document was last updated in 2010 and did not mention China. It lays out the security challenges facing the 30-country military alliance while outlining a course of action and suggests China’s ambitions and “coercive policies” challenge the allies’ interests, security, and values. China found a special mention in both the summit’s communique and the ‘Strategic Concept’ document. NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg remarked China is not an adversary, but it does represent serious challenges to the alliance. He further averred that “China’s growing assertiveness and its coercive policies have consequences for the security of Allies and our partners.” 

The new Strategic Concept outlines NATO’s transformation in line with the NATO 2030 agenda adopted at the 2021 Summit. It is noteworthy that the leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea also participated in the summit. The messaging was clear that in addition to NATO’s “Euro-Atlantic” focus, the alliance is eager to expand its strategic influence in the Indo-Pacific region and tackle the emerging China challenge. The NATO alliance members and their Indo-Pacific partners are exploring ways and areas of common interests to counter China’s increasing hegemonic economic and military designs. Those issues include cyber and hybrid threats, maritime security, counter-terrorism, and the impact of climate change on security.

In addition to the NATO summit, the Group of Seven (G7) countries met in Germany on 26-28 June, discussing pressing geopolitical/economic issues. They launched an infrastructure investment plan, Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The G7 Leaders’ communique mentioned China 14 times and opposed Beijing’s illegal maritime activities in the East and South China Seas, human rights concerns in Hong Kong, and urged China to pressure Russia to stop its “military aggression” in Ukraine.

European leaders have grown increasingly wary of China in recent years, and those views have hardened after Beijing has refused to condemn the “Russian invasion of Ukraine.” Nevertheless, differences still exist between countries in NATO on how to handle China. Some alliance members want to ensure the focus remains squarely on Russia, while the United States has pressed China as the “most serious long-term challenge to the international order.” In Eastern and Central Europe, where Russia is regarded as the main security threat, relations (with China) had already been starting to get complicated, but the fact is that Beijing’s support for Moscow has accelerated a shift in Europe. [5]

The recent summits signal an increasing alignment between the US and its European partners on the China issue. Till recent years, NATO’s policy position on matters relating to China had been to avoid taking “joint stances,” given the diverging interests of member countries that largely result from their differing trade and economic relations with China, but also their differing assessments of the degree to which the alliance should remain focused on threats to European security from Russia. However, China’s use of economic coercion towards other countries, particularly those in Europe, and the US’ successful attempts to convince the NATO allies to speak with “one voice” against Beijing’s aggressive policies have largely united the alliance. 

On the other hand, China has possibly underestimated the extent to which its stance would resonate through its ties with the European countries. The relationship is already on shaky ground following European concerns over human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, Beijing’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy, and China’s economic targeting of Lithuania over the latter’s relations with Taiwan. China has reacted aggressively against various communiques and policy statements against it. China’s Mission to the European Union said in a statement that “[NATO’s] Strategic Concept claims that other countries pose challenges, but it is NATO that is creating problems around the world.” The statement further noted, “We urge NATO to stop provoking confrontation by drawing ideological lines, abandon the Cold War mentality and zero-sum game approach, and stop spreading disinformation and provocative statements against China.”

NATO’s new document is a significant setback for Beijing’s attempts to drive a wedge between the United States and European stances on China. US President Joe Biden said at the NATO summit, “we rallied our alliances to meet both the direct threats that Russia poses to Europe and the systemic challenges that China poses to a rules-based world order.” The NATO alliance warned that Beijing is working to “subvert the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains,” which would have direct strategic implications for the US and its alliance partners in Europe and outside. Although it was the first-time inclusion of China in NATO’s policy document and the G-7’s communiqué, this trend will continue in future summits as well. Consequently, Beijing will further exacerbate its aggressive economic and diplomatic posturing against European countries, besides threatening maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region, especially Taiwan’s.


Author profile
Pia Sherman

Pia Sherman is a freelance writer. Views expressed are solely of the author.

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