“China will closely follow the developments,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Zhao Lijian said Thursday. “We will not sit idly by and watch if anything should happen that may harm China’s interests.”
“I advise NATO to stop spreading false facts against China and [stop] provocative speech and acts and to not soil Asia and the whole world,” Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming told a Seoul audience gathered to commemorate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties with South Korea, which attended the NATO summit.
Those diplomatic growls continue a series of statements that indicate the animosity festering between China and “the political West,” as senior NATO officials sometimes refer to the U.S.-led network of democracies. The dueling remarks lay bare the extent to which Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has corroded the relationship between China and the Western democracies, such that both sides now speak of the other as a threat to export conflict into their respective regions.
“I do think tensions between China and Europe have risen rapidly in the aftermath of the Ukraine invasion,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Zack Cooper told the Washington Examiner. “I think both sides still primarily worry about what the other is doing in their own regions, not globally. So NATO worries about China in the trans-Atlantic region. The Chinese worry about NATO in Asia. I think we’ll see more of that continue.”
China’s support for Russia throughout the war in Ukraine has hardened Western attitudes toward the communist regime. Trans-Atlantic anger over Beijing’s alignment with Russia on such a grave issue for European security could accelerate the so-called decoupling of the trans-Atlantic and Chinese economies, a process galvanized by the anger over China’s censorship of early warnings about the emerging novel coronavirus and subsequent restrictions on the export of medical equipment needed during the pandemic.
“Russia and China, they are the blunt liars,” a senior European official told the Washington Examiner. “Day by day, it will be more difficult to accept [products] ‘made in Russia’ and, along with that, ‘made in China’ things.”
That trend toward mutual suspicion has been on full display throughout the NATO summit in Madrid, where the trans-Atlantic alliance identified China as a locus of “systemic competition” against the West, a designation that drew a statement of unvarnished hostility from Beijing.
“It is NATO that poses systemic challenges to world security and stability,” said Zhao, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman. “NATO must immediately stop its groundless accusations and provocative rhetoric against China, abandon the outdated Cold War mentality and zero-sum game mindset, renounce its blind faith in military might and misguided practice of seeking absolute security, halt the dangerous attempt to destabilize Europe and the Asia-Pacific, and act in the interest of security and stability in Europe and beyond.”
Similarly, China’s top envoy at the United Nations alleged that NATO had “sowed the seed of conflict” in Ukraine, adding that “the kind of turmoil and conflict that are affecting parts of the world must not be allowed to happen in the Asia-Pacific.”
That allegation mirrored NATO’s assessment that “Euro-Atlantic security” could be jeopardized by China’s actions.
“The PRC’s malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target Allies and harm Alliance security,” the NATO’s 2022 “Strategic Concept” says. “We remain open to constructive engagement with the PRC, including to build reciprocal transparency, with a view to safeguarding the Alliance’s security interests. We will work together responsibly, as Allies, to address the systemic challenges posed by the PRC to Euro-Atlantic security and ensure NATO’s enduring ability to guarantee the defense and security of Allies.”
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attended the NATO summit immediately after traveling to Berlin for the annual meeting of the G-7, the bloc of the world’s seven largest industrialized economies. In addition to South Korea, the summit was attended by leaders of Australia and New Zealand, which meant that all of the Five Eyes, an Anglophone intelligence-sharing bloc, were represented in Madrid.
“At the same time that they’re talking about China in the Euro-Atlantic region, they are also inviting the Japanese and the Koreans to the sidelines of NATO meetings,” Cooper said. “They want to work with Asian partners, but I think they see a lot of this cooperation, as you know, largely occurring in the trans-Atlantic area and responding to what China’s doing in the trans-Atlantic area rather than being more about NATO operating in Asia.”
Cooper emphasized the distinction between the interests of NATO as a security bloc and the interests of the various NATO member-states that also have an interest in the Indo-Pacific. But British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss identified the G-7 as a possible platform for wide-ranging cooperation to maintain security.
“I want to see the G-7 acting as an economic NATO, not just looking at the challenge of Russia but also the challenge of China,” Truss told the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday. “In our recent G-7 Foreign Ministers meeting, we put out a statement about Chinese economic coercion. That is a key part, as far as I am concerned, of the network of liberty. Of course, the [gross domestic product] of the G-7 is 50% of the global economy. When we act collectively, we can ensure different outcomes. We can incentivize other nations differently.”
That initiative reflects both European recognition of U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific as well as a broad understanding that Chinese aggression toward, for example, Taiwan would threaten to inflict an economic crisis on the West given Taiwan’s dominant place in the production of high-tech microchips known as semiconductors.
“What we have been talking about with our G-7 allies is making sure that Taiwan has the capabilities to defend itself,” Truss added. ”We provide capabilities to Taiwan, as do other allies around the world. What we are doing is working with our partners to make sure that they have those capabilities because we need to defend the country.”
Chinese officials bristled at a similar remark this week from Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, as the mainland communist regime insists that Taiwan “is not a sovereign country” but rather a renegade province that must eventually be brought to heel. “We hope relevant politicians will stop making irresponsible remarks,” Zhao said this week.
The United States, the United Kingdom, and other leading countries severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in order to forge a diplomatic relationship with Beijing, but they have maintained warm unofficial relations with Taipei while working to convince Chinese Communist leaders that an invasion of the island would be “a catastrophic mistake,” as Truss put it this week.
“We will not sit idly by and do nothing about ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist acts,” Zhao said after stipulating that Beijing prefers “peaceful reunification” with Taipei. “It was quite surprising that a senior U.K. official would make such remarks, which lacked basic common sense and sounded rather presumptuous.”
For their part, U.S. lawmakers focused on the NATO summit hailed the trans-Atlantic alliance’s heightened consciousness of Beijing.
“I’m encouraged the NATO strategic concept focuses on defeating and deterring Putin and seeks to prioritize China as the principal threat to safety and prosperity around the world,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said Thursday.
To some extent, that partial reorientation reflects the European understanding that any threat to the U.S., a major Pacific power for more than a century, is a threat to the rest of the allies.
“We are with the U.S.,” the senior European official said. “Without the U.S., we could not face … Russia as well.”
The U.K. sees a problem that presents itself more directly than a simple matter of solidarity with the Americans.
“We recognize that China has built up its armed forces,” Truss told the Foreign Affairs Committee. “It is more active in the European area, and therefore NATO needs to be more actively looking at the threat from China. This is a key step forward for NATO in its actions on China.