NATO takes a stand against China over its support for Russia – DW – 10/07/2024

At their summit in the US capital Washington, NATO leaders will not only approve a new military aid package for Ukraine, but will also engage in tough talks with China.

In an interview with US media ahead of the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described China as “the main enabler 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 huge difference right now on the battlefield.” He added that China’s claim to seek better relations with European countries while simultaneously fueling the biggest threat to Europe’s security “makes no sense.”

Beijing has repeatedly denied supplying weapons to Moscow. However, the alliance has accused China of bolstering Russia’s war machine by providing it with critical components.

According to the US assessment, China is the main supplier of machine tools, microelectronics and nitrocellulose (critical to making munitions and missile propellers) and other dual-use items that Moscow uses to strengthen its defence industrial base.

NATO countries see China’s behaviour during the war in Ukraine as proof that Europe cannot afford to ignore the challenge posed by Beijing.

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

Is China a threat to America’s entire alliance system?

This is a major shift for an organisation that has traditionally focused on security in the transatlantic area. China has not appeared in a high-level public NATO document until late 2019. Only in its latest strategic concept, agreed in Madrid in 2022, does the alliance describe 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 “took off in Europe,” she said.

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

Many in Europe now seem to recognize that U.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 adds.

NATO leaders in Washington. Image: Yves Herman/REUTERS

What do Indo-Pacific nations 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 US Congress session in April this year, he referred to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Today’s Ukraine can be tomorrow’s East Asia,” Fumio Kishida told US lawmakers.

In June, South Korea’s 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 a pact pledging mutual defense in the event of war.

New joint projects with Indo-Pacific partners

NATO has been working with partners in the Indo-Pacific since the early 2000s, but Russia’s war on Ukraine and security challenges posed by China have led to deeper engagement.

The alliance views these countries, which share a region with China and bring new expertise, as partners in the effort to counter attempts by China and Russia to challenge the rules-based global order.

Leaders from Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand have been invited to attend the meeting in Washington. This will be the third summit with their participation.

Ahead of the meeting, NATO chief Stoltenberg said the alliance and its Indo-Pacific partners will “build on our practical cooperation with flagship projects in Ukraine, cyber and new technologies.” They also want to work more closely on 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, insisting the alliance is geographically limited to the North Atlantic.

Germany recognises the importance of the region as a whole. Berlin, however, still sees China – despite its increasingly assertive policies – as an essential partner in facing global challenges.

Some experts also say that NATO’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific would not be welcomed by everyone. “This is a very volatile region. But there are no hot wars at the moment,” Shada Islam, an independent EU adviser in Brussels, told DW.

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


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