China and NATO, mutual threats

It has taken time for NATO to see China as a direct challenge. Until last year’s summit in Brussels, the Atlantic Alliance had not shown its concern about various aspects related to the Asian giant that could affect security. But with the new strategic concept, allies rate China of “challenge” to their interests, security and values.

One of NATO’s points of concern is the constant China’s military modernizationa nuclear-armed power that increases its military spending every year and, therefore, the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army to operate in other regions, beyond the Asia-Pacific area.

A challenge for NATO

The threat China poses to NATO is not a direct military threat, at least not right now; but it is true that China has global geopolitical ambitions, above all, but also in defense and economic issues, very broad, and is moving towards them. That means that China’s global presence and influence are increasing and China is getting closer to NATO’s borders“, Explain Helena Legardaexpert in defense and foreign policy of China, where she studied and worked for years, and current researcher at the think tank MERICS, based in Berlin.

Another source of concern for the Atlantic Alliance is the close relationship between China and Russia. their leaders, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin flaunt their good harmony and on February 4, coinciding with the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing and shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they signed a “limitless” strategic agreement.

During the Ukraine war we have not seen China get involved, it is trying to stay relatively out of it

“During the Ukraine war we have not seen China get involved, China is trying to stay relatively aloof. This does not mean that, if there are other conflicts in the future, China would not intervene in support of Russia, for example,” warns Helena Legarda.

Regarding the war in Ukraine, Beijing assumes the Russian discourse, both in form and substance: the Chinese government and the official media blame NATO and the United States for “provoking” the armed conflict by their attempt to expand to the East, and blame them for the growing global instability. The Chinese leadership finds it difficult to maintain the difficult balance between its traditional respect for sovereignty and the interests of its strategic partner.

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Beijing and Moscow have also made clear their intentions to implement a new global order that is not led by their common enemy, the United States. These ambitions represent “a very clear threat to the norms and values ​​defended in general by the member countries of the Alliance and other liberal democracies,” says the MERICS analyst, who underlines: “They are real threats, but not direct military threats“.

China looks suspiciously at the Alliance

Beijing’s criticism of the Atlantic Organization is not something new. China looks at NATO through the prism of its geopolitical rivalry with the United States. In its public interventions, the Chinese leadership often criticizes the Alliance as “reminiscent of the Cold War” and calls on the rest of the world to abandon this confrontational mentality in favor of a new global order.

Chinese leaders view NATO as a US-dominated alliance and, therefore, a tool that Washington can use to try to contain China and prevent it from returning to occupy the place that it considers its rightful place as a world power”, explains Legarda.

At the daily press conference held in Beijing by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, it is not uncommon to hear acid criticism of the Atlantic Alliance. On May 26, its spokesman Wang Wenbin stated: “NATO has said that it does not seek to expand to other regions. However, in recent years, has continuously entered the Asia-Pacific region and some NATO members have sent warplanes and warships to waters adjacent to China for military exercises, creating tensions and provoking conflicts.”

Indeed, several member countries of NATO are increasing their military and political presence in the region; but that does not imply that the Alliance as such is expanding in the Indo-Pacific. “The fact that the United States or France send ships to the Indo-Pacific does not mean that it is a NATO operation. “The main fear in Beijing is that the United States will form a new military coalition in the Indo-Pacific with the aim of containing China. That is something that China considers a direct threat. But NATO itself, as an alliance, does not operate in the Indo-Pacific and there are no expectations that it will change its area of ​​operations to include the Indo-Pacific”, explains analyst Helena Legarda.

Who constitutes a greater threat?

Both China and NATO seem doomed to recognize each other as a mutual threat. We asked the Chinese foreign policy specialist which of the two actors represents a greater challenge for the other.

“I would say that, if we consider NATO and China, right now it is possible that China is a bigger threat to NATO than NATO is to China,” Legarda replies. And he points out that not only military power should be taken into account, but also the ambitions and aspirations of each actor.

More tension in the future and Taiwan, in the spotlight

The fact that each actor looks at the other with mistrust does not, for the moment, foresee the outbreak of a direct conflict, since neither of them would be interested in getting involved in a war at this time. Of course, everything indicates that relations between NATO and China are going to be increasingly tense.

“More tensions are expected. Relations are not going to improve in the near future; but you have to focus, first, on dealing with those challenges that China presents to the alliance. If there are opportunities to collaborate on specific issues, you should also take advantage of them. And, above all, try to control any type of escalation of tensions”, recommends the MERICS researcher.

In a world with its eyes on Ukraine and Russia, we ask about the real risk of a new conflict breaking out in this region.

“The danger of conflict in the Indo-Pacific is increasing, especially when it comes to Taiwan. We are seeing a Much tougher official speech from Beijing, with much more military pressure on Taiwan, and Beijing has even admitted that it is preparing for an eventual attack on the island if necessary. This does not mean that an invasion of Taiwan is imminent, it is something that is probably still several years away; but over time tensions are increasing and the risk that Beijing decides to launch that attack”, warns Helena Legarda. That would be a conflict with unforeseeable consequences.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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