NATO stands firm with China to support Russia – DW – 07/10/2024

NATO leaders at their summit in the US capital Washington will not only approve a new military aid package for Ukraine but will also talk strongly to China.

In an interview with US media ahead of the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described China as “the main architect of Russia’s war against Ukraine”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told DW at a meeting of foreign ministers in Prague in May that China’s support “makes a big difference on the battlefield right now.” He said the fact that China wants better relations with European countries and, at the same time, promotes the biggest threat to Europe’s security “makes no sense.”

Beijing has repeatedly denied supplying arms to Moscow. However, the alliance has accused China of strengthening Russia’s war machine by providing vital components.

According to United States assessments, China is the main supplier of machine tools, microelectronics and nitrocellulose (crucial for making munitions and missile propellers) and other dual-use items, which Moscow uses to strengthen its defense industrial base.

NATO countries see China’s behavior during the war in Ukraine as evidence that Europe cannot ignore the challenge posed by Beijing.

According to a senior US State Department official, the alliance is now “focused on China-Russia relations.”

Is China a threat to the entire US alliance system?

This is a major change for an organisation that has traditionally focused on security in the transatlantic region. China has not appeared in any high-level public NATO document until late 2019. Only in its latest strategic concept, agreed in Madrid for 2022, has the alliance described Beijing’s ambitions as a challenge to its security.

“There is a shift,” Liselotte Odgaard, a researcher at the conservative Hudson Institute in Washington, told DW. This shift began during the administration of former US President Donald Trump and “started in Europe,” she recalls.

Odgaard says the United States has long regarded China as the main threat to its security interests. “But they have convinced Europe – and pushed the Europeans to see this – that China is also a problem for them and for the entire US alliance system,” he explains.

Many in Europe now recognize that America’s allies in Asia and Europe face some of the same challenges. “And as Russia and China cooperate, it is necessary to mirror that cooperation by strengthening European cooperation with Asian partners,” Odgaard says.

NATO leaders in Washington. Image: Yves Hermann/Reuters

What do Indo-Pacific countries think?

Faced with a more assertive and aggressive China, some Asian countries also seem convinced of the need for greater cooperation.

When Japan’s Prime Minister attended a session of the US Congress in April this year, he mentioned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Fumio Kishida told US lawmakers, “Today’s Ukraine may be tomorrow’s East Asia.”

In June, South Korean national security adviser Chang Ho-jin told reporters that Seoul would review the possibility of supplying arms to Ukraine after the leaders of North Korea and Russia signed an agreement committing to mutual defense in the event of war.

New joint projects with Indo-Pacific partners

NATO has cooperated with partners in the Indo-Pacific since the early 2000s, but engagement has deepened because of Russia’s war against Ukraine and security challenges posed by China.

The alliance sees these countries, which share a region with China and bring new knowledge, as partners in the effort to counter Chinese and Russian efforts to challenge the rules-based global order.

The leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand have been invited to attend the meeting in Washington. This will be the third summit with your participation.

Ahead of the meeting, NATO chief Stoltenberg said the alliance and its Indo-Pacific partners would “leverage our practical cooperation on major projects in Ukraine, including cyber and new technologies.” They also want to work more closely in defense industrial production.

No liaison office in Japan

But beyond that, NATO member states are divided over their approach to the Indo-Pacific region. Last year, France blocked a NATO plan to open a liaison office in Tokyo, saying the alliance was too geographically confined to the North Atlantic.

Germany recognizes the importance of the region in general. However, Berlin still regards China – despite its increasingly assertive policies – as an essential partner to face global challenges.

Additionally, some experts say NATO’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific will not be welcomed by everyone. “It’s a very volatile region. But there is no hot war at the moment,” Shada Islam, an independent EU adviser in Brussels, told DW.

“Most of the countries I talk to, whether it’s Indonesia, Malaysia or even India, don’t want foreign powers to come into the region and perhaps make things worse,” Islam said.


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