Brussels: NATO leaders Monday declared China a constant security challenge. The said the Chinese are working to undermine global order. This is a message in sync with US President Joe Biden’s efforts to get allies to speak out with a more unified voice against China’s trade, military and human rights practices. The NATO leaders said that China’s goals and ‘assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security’. The warning to China comes as Biden has stepped up his effort to rally allies to put up a unified voice about China’s human rights record. Biden has also criticised China’s trade practices and its military’s increasingly assertive behaviour that has unnerved US allies in the Pacific.
The 30 heads of states and governments avoided calling China a rival. However, they expressed concern about what they said were its ‘coercive policies’, the opaque ways it is modernising its armed forces and its use of disinformation. They called on Beijing to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system.
Biden, who arrived at the summit after three days of consulting with Group of Seven allies in England, pushed for the G-7 communique there that called out what it said were forced labour practices and other human rights violations impacting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province. The president said he was satisfied with the communique, although differences remain among the allies about how forcefully to criticise Beijing.
Biden has also used his eight-day trip to Europe to urge allies to work more closely in pressing Russian President Vladimir Putin over his government’s treatment of political dissidents and to do more to stem cyber attacks originating from Russia that have targeted private companies and governments around the globe.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is an alliance of European and North American countries formed after World War II as a bulwark against Russian aggression.
The new Brussels communique states plainly that the NATO nations ‘will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the alliance’. But as Biden faced with the G-7 communique, some allies bristled at the NATO effort to speak out on China.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said NATO’s decision to name China as a threat ‘shouldn’t be overstated’ because Beijing, like Russia, is also a partner in some areas. China is Germany’s top trading partner and is heavily dependent on Russia in fulfilling the country’s energy needs.
Merkel noted that ‘when you look at the cyber threats, the hybrid threats, when you look at the cooperation between Russia and China, you can’t just ignore China’. But she added that it was important to ‘find the right balance’ as China is also a partner on many issues.
“I think it’s very important, just like we do in Russia, to always make the offer of political discussions, political discourse, in order to come up with solutions,” Merkel said. “But where there are threats, and I said they’re in the hybrid field too, then as NATO you have to be prepared,” the German Chancellor added.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron urged the alliance not to let China distract it from what he saw as more pressing issues facing NATO, including the fight against terrorism and security issues related to Russia. “I think it is very important not to scatter our efforts and not to have biases in our relation to China,” Macron said.
The Chinese Embassy to the United Kingdom issued Tuesday a statement saying the G-7 communique ‘deliberately slandered China and arbitrarily interfered in China’s internal affairs’, and exposed the ‘sinister intentions of a few countries, such as the United States’. There was no immediate reaction from the Chinese government to the new NATO statement.