ISMAEL HAMMOUNAÏCHA DÍAZ WRITES – The recent 2022 Madrid NATO Summit offered a sense of how much the world order has changed. If one thing is clear, it is that Putin got the opposite of what he wanted: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is stronger and more united than ever. Russia has shifted from being one of NATO’s strategic partners to a major threat for the organization and the world’s stability. The main catalyst for this current situation is its invasion over Ukraine. Rightly or wrongly, China is now also in NATO’s focus.
In this critical wartime summit, the organization has highlighted its support for Ukraine in defeating the Russian troops. As an example of NATO’s upturn, Sweden and Finland are slated to become the latest members. This wouldn’t have been possible if Turkey had not dropped their threat to veto as it did right before the summit’s commencement. The justifiable urge of the Nordics to join NATO coincides in its nature with that of other Easter European countries: they worry about any unpredictable assaults the Kremlin may take on their sovereignty and territorial integrity. For this, the organization has updated the 2020 NATO Strategic Concept paper.
The organization’s new strategic concept addresses China for the first time since its creation. NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated flatly and dramatically that China has now become a “systemic challenge for Euro-Atlantic safety.” Stoltenberg added that while China is not NATO’s adversary, it “must be clear-eyed about the serious challenges it represents.”
The new strategic concept, designed as NATO’s new roadmap, specifies that Beijing’s policies “challenge the organization’s interests, security and values.” The document condemns “the People’s Republic of China’s malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational and disinformation rhetoric [that] target allies and damage the alliance’s security.” NATO warns that the Chinese government is “rapidly expanding” its nuclear capabilities without increasing transparency or engaging in good faith in arms control. This is of concern not only to NATO members, but also to neighboring countries in Asia and Oceania, not to mention the island of Taiwan.
The news has not been well received in China. Beijing said that it “firmly” opposes NATO’s new strategic concept. It argues it is “replete with ideological bias and Cold War-like assessments,” and “maliciously attacks and defames China.”
“Thirty years later, NATO is still continuing its tactics of creating enemies and fostering bloc confrontation,” the spokesman for the Chinese Mission to the European Union said in a statement, adding: “We will give firm and resolute responses to any act that undermines our interests.” According to the spokesman, NATO is “a remnant of the Cold War” which, “thirty years later, has still not abandoned its way of thinking or its tactics of creating enemies or the confrontation of blocs. Its new strategic concept claims that other countries pose challenges, but it is the Alliance that is creating problems around the world. NATO claims to be a defensive organization that advocates the rules-based international order, but it has bypassed the UN Security Council and waged wars against sovereign states.”
The spokesman pointed out that the Alliance had claimed that its defense zone would not go beyond the North Atlantic, but that “in recent years it has shown its strength in the Asia-Pacific region, trying to provoke a confrontation between blocs as it has done in Europe.”
“Who is challenging global security and undermining world peace? Is there any war or conflict in these years in which NATO has not been involved?” the spokesman adds. In Beijing’s eyes, China pursues an “independent, peaceful” foreign policy and is “a contributor to global development and a defender of the international order.”
However, this discourse calling NATO the “disruptor” of Europe is in part upending European equanimity. Beijing has refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, including the killing of civilians. Per contra, it is actively blaming the US and NATO for provoking Moscow. Chatham House’s Pepijn Bergsen explained on CNN how China “very quickly and very clearly lined itself up – at least in words, not so much in deeds –with Russia.” Bergsen said that the contrast between the two has contributed to the development of the “democracies versus autocracies” narrative in Europe, adding that domestic politics also play a part. “In Eastern and Central Europe, where Russia is regarded as by far the number one security threat, relations (with China) had already been starting to fray, but the fact that China so clearly lined up with Russia has accelerated a shift,” he added.
China claimed neutrality in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, as well as its support for peace, yet it hasn’t taken any significant public actions that show that. China has either deliberately sacrificed its already fading relationship with Europe or has underestimated the implications of its connections with Russia for its European partners. China’s relations with Europe have been frail for the past few years due to Europe’s concerns over serious allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, of loss of freedom in Hong Kong, and of China’s economic targeting against little Lithuania over ties with Taiwan.
Days before the Madrid summit, the Group of 7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the US) met up and released a joint communique. It mentions China in multiple occasions, seeking cooperation but also calling on Beijing to comply with international rules to improve its human rights conduct. G7 also urged Beijing to push Moscow to abide by UN resolutions and cease its military actions, showing how Russia has tainted the EU’s perspective on China.
Those announcements came after a new $600 billion G7 infrastructure investment program, first mentioned last year, got its “formal launch” on Sunday. The goal is to establish an outright effort to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which critics say Beijing has used primarily for global influence.
Ismael Hammounaïcha Díaz is a contributing writer to Asia Media International.