China, the new “challenge” for NATO

Madrid has been a turning point for NATO. With its new strategy for the next decade, agreed at this summit, the Atlantic Alliance is no longer so Atlantic and it has included for the first time the challenges to its security that come from Africa, the Middle East, and most significantly, from China, in the first express mention of the Asian giant in a document of this type. Specifically, the allies note that “Beijing’s coercive policies and ambitions” “challenge our interests, security and values.”

In the same strategic concept, NATO turns its position on Russia, which it defines as the “most significant and direct threat” to the security of the Alliance. For analysts, the new positions towards the two countries are closely related. “We need to learn that you can’t leave the problems created by countries with leaders like Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin without a very concrete answer and determined”, explains to Brett Bruen, American diplomat and director of Global Programs during the presidency of Barack Obama.

Bruen believes that the inclusion of Beijing in the strategy of the Western military bloc is correct, since “the world has changed and we must recognize the threat that China represents”, but he warns that “it is not enough”. “It remains to be seen what NATO is going to do about China and Asia in generalbecause it is an Atlantic alliance, and prevailing in the Pacific has its problems”, he comments from the summit in Madrid.

“China wants to be a global benchmark, not just a regional one”

But what has changed between 2010, when the Alliance agreed its latest strategic concept in Lisbon without mentioning China, and now? According to UNED Contemporary History professor Isidro Sepúlveda, to answer this question we must look directly at the change in Beijing’s policies. “The People’s Republic of China itself, in its latest strategic panorama, showed to what extent stop using the old soft diplomacy to definitively bet on hard diplomacy”he assures.

Specifically, in 2018 Xi Jinping “takes a major strategic turn in his foreign policy and wants to make China no longer a regional benchmark, which was the aspiration it has had in the last two decades, but now he wants it to be a global reference”.

That is when it collides directly with the ambitions of the United States, which has traditionally been the primary actor in the Pacific area. “China is expanding its power as a power through its economic influence and maritime deployments in the South China Sea. It does it in ways that are not as direct as Russia, but it generates competition with the US,” emphasizes Javier Borràs, an independent analyst on Asia and former correspondent for the EFE Agency in Beijing.

Europe and China: a trade union difficult to break

The experts consulted agree that the inclusion of China in the Atlantic strategy responds to a Washington’s efforts, while the European countries prefer not to adopt a position that is too belligerent to Beijing given their close trade relationship. China is the main exporter of goods for the European Union, which last year imported 472,000 million euros from the Asian country, double what it imported from the second country on the list, the United States, according to Eurostat.

In fact, in the next point of the concept to which the “challenge” of China mentions, it is insisted that the door to cooperation between the powers remains open: “We remain open to a constructive relationship with the People’s Republic of China”. According to Borràs, this addition “qualifies” the above and differentiates it from the mention of Russia, which is due to the fact that “NATO allies have different positions regarding China.”

“The rhetoric that the European Union has regarding China and Russia is quite different. One is a clear aggressor and the other is a challenge in the medium or long term,” he clarifies. The final result of the drafting of the text shows the difficult balance of the Alliance and many of its member countries with China.

While the United States has maintained an open trade war against Beijing during Trump’s term -such as the sanctions against the Huawei telephone company-, European countries have continued to buy and sell to China without limitations, something that does not seem that it will change in the near future. “Trade relations are going to continue. Europe does not gain anything if it suddenly not only cuts off trade relations with Russia, but also cuts off with China, it is not feasible,” says Sepúlveda.

“Trade relations are going to continue. Europe does not gain anything if it suddenly not only cuts off trade relations with Russia, but also cuts off with China, it is not feasible”

“We are not going to cut trade relationsbut let’s stop seeing China as this friendly friend who sells us cheap things. We are going to be aware that buying things from it is weakening our own economy and attacking the foundations of our political systems and our scales of values”, summarizes the UNED professor.

Bruen believes, however, that more action must be taken against Beijing. “Important lessons must be learned from what happened with Russia”, defend. In 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and started the war in eastern Ukraine, “Europe did not make a decision to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, and now it urgently wants to do so before the end of the year.” “I’m not saying that relations should be severed, but it should be ensured that when China, for example, threatens Taiwan, represses demonstrations in Hong Kong, or there is more evidence of genocide in Xinjiang, Europe needs to be ready to take the necessary actions.”claims.

Ukraine’s shadow hangs over Taiwan

Beijing has not shown the same spirit of direct military expansion as Russia with the invasion of Ukraine, although it has been launching threats against Taiwan with increasing intensity in recent months. This island with 25 million inhabitants that China has promised to “reunify” with the mainland after seven decades apart, has been at the heart of tensions between China and the United States for years. The war in Ukraine, more than 8,000 kilometers away, raised all the alarms in Taipei, which fears a similar action by China on its territory.

“You can compare [las dos situaciones]and from my point of view, a total invasion of Taiwan we will not leave in this generation because China is seeing what we did after the Russian invasion in Ukraine. However, that does not mean that they will not find a way to cause problems with Taiwan,” reflects the US diplomat.

Sepúlveda also agrees that the Western response to the war in Ukraine, which has included harsh sanctions against Moscow and the sending of arms and financial aid to kyiv, “holds back China’s ambitions”. “If China sees that a Russian attack on Ukraine has no effect beyond the declarations and chest-pounding of Western democracies, it would have its hands free to think that nothing would happen with Taiwan. If Russia wins, Taiwan going to suffer an invasion,” he asserts.

Until now, the United States is the one that has been most involved in this diplomatic crisis, -Biden even threatened a military response in the event of an invasion of Taiwan-, but the decisions of a small European country with Lithuania have also increased tension with Europe. Last year, the Baltic country changed the name of the Taiwanese diplomatic delegation in its territory, which it earned him a reprimand from Beijing, which withdrew its ambassador, and froze Lithuanian exports to the country. However, the great European powers have maintained a cautious stance in this regard, and the few sanctions that have been applied against China have ended up declining over time.

In any case, China’s ambitions go ‘beyond Taiwan’recalls Sepúlveda, who believes that the New Silk Road, a multimillion-dollar investment plan in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, or extending its domain to other islands in the South China Sea, is more relevant for the Xi Jinping government. .

The Cold War returns, also for China

Echoes of the Cold War resound in the strategic concept of Madrid. NATO recovers its original mission, that of a Western military bloc faced with the Russian threat, and relations between the West and Moscow are going through their “worst moment” since the time of the confrontation between the two blocks, as the secretary acknowledged during the summit. Alliance General Jens Stoltenberg.

With the inclusion of Beijing in this strategy, the similarities return with that moment in the 20th century in which Western countries not only competed with the USSR but also with communist China. “Two blocks are presented, one from NATO and the other from Russia and China, but the first is more cohesive. For example, we have seen that although various countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, at no time has China explicitly offered to help them overcome these sanctions,” says Borràs.

He also recalls that the economic situation cannot be compared to the 1960s or 70s, with today’s China fully integrated into global capitalism and converted into the main supplier of goods for half the world – not only for Europe. “I see very unlikely that there will be separate autonomous blocks, but globalization may not be as fluid as it once was”Add.

“I see very unlikely that there will be separate autonomous blocks, but globalization may not be as smooth as it had been before”

Indeed, the Cold War has featured in Beijing’s forceful response to its inclusion in the new concept. It is a document, “full of ideological bias and assessments typical of the Cold War” that “maliciously attacks and defames China”, they have pointed out from the Chinese office in Brussels. “Thirty years later, NATO still continues with its tactic of creating enemies and fomenting bloc confrontation”continues the statement.

What is threatened, for Sepúlveda, is the world order built since the 1990s, when the USSR fell, China turned to the market economy and Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the “end of history.” “The great challenge facing NATO is a general questioning of the liberal international order. What the Alliance does with this new strategic paradigm is to prepare for a change of course in international relations, a change of course that is unprecedented since the implosion of the Soviet Union or since the end of World War II”, concludes the historian .

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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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