The decision by NATO leaders to highlight the global security threat posed by China for the first time has triggered outrage in Beijing, where the Chinese foreign ministry on Thursday accused the Western military alliance of pushing a narrative that “distorts the truth” and “promotes confrontation” between the West and China.
Beijing‘s accusations came after North Korea‘s authoritarian regime, which is backed by China, hurled similar warnings this week, saying military coordination among the U.S., South Korea and Japan represents a “dangerous prelude to the creation of [an] ‘Asian version of NATO.’”
North Korea‘s official KCNA news service on Thursday reprinted an analysis by a local think tank scholar arguing NATO has “brought disaster” to Eastern Europe and now seeks to do the same thing in the Asia-Pacific region.
“All things considered, there is an ominous sign that dark waves of the North Atlantic will break the silence of the Pacific sooner or later,” wrote Kim Hyo Myong, identified by KCNA as a researcher of the Society for International Politics Study. “NATO is nothing but a perpetrator of the U.S. hegemonic strategy. It is simply a tool for local invasion. … After transforming the Western Hemisphere into the unstable international region of dispute, NATO is turning its sinister eyes to the far-off Eastern Hemisphere this time.”
North Korea‘s warnings came as President Biden met with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on the sidelines of the major NATO summit in Madrid, while the Chinese warning was a response to the newly updated “strategic doctrine” that NATO formally endorsed during its summit, which wrapped up Thursday.
While heavily focused on the threat from Russia, the NATO strategy blueprint for the first time in its 75-year history singled out China as a “systemic challenge to Euro-Atlantic security” and condemned Beijing‘s warming ties with Moscow.
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“The deepening strategic partnership between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutually reinforcing attempts to undercut the rules-based international order run counter to our values and interests,” the NATO document said.
It reflected frustration among NATO leaders over Chinese military muscle flexing, aggressive maritime territorial claims and support for Russia — frustration that has mounted in recent years and that U.S. and other alliance officials spoke openly about during this week’s summit.
“The relationship that we all have with China is among the most complex and consequential of any relationship that we have with another country and … there are aspects, increasingly, where we have to contest what China is doing,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.
Mr. Blinken added that the U.S. and NATO allies are “not looking for conflict, but trying to make sure that together we’re upholding the rules-based international order -– wherever it’s being challenged — and if China’s challenging it in one way or another, we will stand up to that.”
Chinese officials were already pushing back and venting frustration Thursday, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian expressing “serious concern and resolute protest” over the NATO rhetoric.
“China is gravely concerned and firmly opposed to this,” Mr. Zhao said, according to the state-controlled Xinhua news agency.
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“The so-called NATO’s new Strategic Concept ignores facts, distorts the truth, … vilifies China‘s foreign policy, makes irresponsible statements about China’s natural military development and its national defense policy, promotes confrontation and conflict, [and] is filled with the Cold War mentality and ideological prejudices,” Mr. Zhao said at his regular briefing with reporters Thursday in Beijing.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg defended the China passages in the new Strategic Doctrine.
Mr. Stoltenberg reiterated the warnings about China during his own press conference later in the day Thursday in Madrid, telling reporters that heads of state from across the 30-nation alliance discussed Russia and China in tandem during a closing meeting of the NATO summit.
Alliance leaders “addressed how Russia and China continue to seek political, economic and military gain across our southern neighborhood,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, adding that “both Moscow and Beijing are using economic leverage, coercion and hybrid approaches to advance their interests in the region.”
A U.S. push
The reference to China as a “systemic challenge” in NATO‘s updated strategy document, meanwhile, represents something of a victory for the Biden administration, which had been pushing for the inclusion of stronger language targeting Beijing.
While China is a major trading partner of many of NATO‘s member nations and some European allies were hesitant to go as far as Washington in warning about threats posed by Beijing, U.S. officials argue there is plenty in China‘s recent behavior that is of direct concern to the transatlantic alliance.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin endorsed a bilateral relationship “without limits” just weeks before the Kremlin launched its invasion of neighboring Ukraine in late February. China did not endorse the Russian military move and has observed some sanctions imposed on Moscow, but its official press has strongly backed Russia’s version of events in Ukraine and argued that the U.S. and NATO bear the blame for provoking the war.
Earlier this week, Mr. Zhao accused NATO leaders of seeking to move beyond their regional focus and assert influence in the Pacific as well, with the clear goal, he said, of containing China‘s rise.
“NATO should stop drawing ideological lines, stoking political confrontation or seeking to start a new Cold War,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Wednesday. “It should discard the Cold War mentality and zero-sum game mindset and stop making enemies. NATO has already disrupted Europe. It should not seek to destabilize Asia and the world.”
President Xi and leading Chinese Communist Party officials have pushed similar “Cold War” warnings in recent years in response to Washington’s efforts to coordinate with the most economically and militarily powerful democracies of the Indo-Pacific to counterbalance Beijing‘s rising influence over the region.
Beijing was most notably critical of the former Trump administration’s push to elevate the so-called “Quad” alignment of the U.S., India, Japan and Australia — a push the Biden administration has run with by holding the first-ever in-person leaders’ summit of the Quad last year.
The summit came roughly a year after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made global headlines by asserting during a tour of several Asian nations that the former Trump administration and its Indo-Pacific strategy had represented “a huge security risk” to the region. According to an October 2020 report by the South China Morning Post, Mr. Yi specifically slammed the Quad as an “Indo-Pacific NATO.”
North Korea‘s authoritarian regime made its own use of that characterization this week, as it fumed ahead of a meeting among Mr. Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the sidelines of NATO summit, a meeting heavily focused on the problem of Pyongyang.
The presence of Mr. Yoon and Mr. Kishida in Madrid marked the first time that South Korean and Japanese leaders have attended NATO‘s annual summit as observers.
With U.S., South Korean and Japanese forces slated to conduct combined missile detection and tracking drills near Hawaii in August, North Korean state media carried a report this week claiming that Washington “is getting hell-bent on the military cooperation with its stooges in disregard of the primary security demand and concern by Asia-pacific countries.”
“The scheme for formation of the U.S.-Japan-South Korea military alliance, motivated by Japan’s and South Korea’s kowtowing to the U.S., is evidently a dangerous prelude to the creation of ‘Asian version of NATO’,” said the state media report, which, according to Reuters, also accused Washington of fomenting a new Cold War.
A White House readout of Mr. Biden‘s discussion with Mr. Yoon and Mr. Kishida in Madrid, meanwhile, said the three had a “historic trilateral meeting” in which they discussed enhancing their cooperation throughout the Indo-Pacific, particularly in regard to “addressing the evolving threat posed by [North Korea’s] unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.”
“President Biden underscored the United States’ unshakable commitment to the defense of both Japan and the Republic of Korea,” the White House said.