NATO to call out China’s behaviour as ‘systemic challenge’

Expected statement would mark a first for the Western alliance, which is historically focused on Russia.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan, US President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talk as Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson sits before a plenary session at a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium [Brendan Smialowski/Pool via Reuters]

NATO is expected to formally call out China’s behaviour as a “systemic challenge” in its final summit statement, a first for the alliance historically focused on Russia.

Leaders of the Western military alliance meeting in Brussels on Monday, including US President Joe Biden, will condemn China for rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal, its opaqueness in modernising its forces and its military cooperation with Russia, according to the document seen by Reuters.

They are expected to brand China a security risk at the critical summit, Biden’s first since winning the election last year.

“China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security,” NATO leaders will say in their communiques to be published after the summit in Brussels ends on Monday, Reuters reported.

Such statements set the path for NATO strategy.

The expected move comes days after G7 nations scolded Beijing over its alleged human rights abuses against the minority Uighur population in its Xinjiang region.

The group of wealthy nations also called for a high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong and demanded a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.

‘The rise of China’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said NATO, of which the United Kingdom is a member, did not want a new cold war with China but said Beijing posed challenges for the alliance.

“I think people see challenges, they see things that we have to manage together, but they also see opportunities,” he said as he arrived at Monday’s meeting.

China has consistently dismissed mounting Western criticism.

The G7’s conclusions included “baseless accusations”, China’s embassy in London said on Monday.

“Stop slandering China, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop harming China’s interests,” a spokesman said.

As he launched Monday’s meeting, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters: “China is not our adversary, not our enemy. But we need to address together as an alliance the challenges that the rise of China poses to our security.

“China is coming closer to us. We see them in cyberspace, we see China in Africa, but we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure.”

‘Dual-track approach’ to Russia

Stoltenberg said NATO leaders also want to reaffirm the alliance’s “dual-track approach” to Russia involving military deterrence, including the deployment of alliance troops in the Baltic countries and Poland, and dialogue.

He told The Times Radio on Sunday that relations between NATO and Moscow were now at their “lowest point since the end of the Cold War”.

“We see the willingness to use military force against neighbours; Ukraine, Georgia. But we also see cyberattacks,” he said.

“We see attempts to meddle in our political democratic processes, to undermine the trust in our institutions and efforts to divide us.”

As she arrived at Monday’s meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “The issues on the agenda today concern us all. First of all the challenge we are facing: Russia but also the Indo-Pacific region with China in increasing measure.

“Hybrid challenges are becoming increasingly important: cyber attacks and, especially with regard to Russia, disinformation campaigns.”

NATO post-Trump

Merkel and other NATO leaders expect Biden to recommit Washington to the alliance’s collective defence after his predecessor Donald Trump’s confrontational rhetoric at summits created an impression of crisis, envoys told Reuters.

As he arrived at the summit on Monday, Biden told European allies their defence was a “sacred obligation” for the US.

“Article Five is a sacred obligation,” Biden said, referring to the transatlantic alliance’s collective defence pledge. “I want all Europe to know that the United States is there.”

“NATO is critically important to us,” he added.

Biden also said both Russia and China were not acting “in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped”, referring to Western efforts since the mid-1990s to bring both countries into the fold of liberal democracies.

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Brussels, said: “What Biden will be trying to do is rebuild trust with allies, because that trust has been badly eroded in the past few years under Donald Trump.”

The NATO meeting comes ahead of the US president’s much-anticipated talks with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva.

Source: News Agencies