Diplomats said China’s growing military and economic presence in the Atlantic region is expected to sound a rare warning from NATO leaders about the potential security threat when they meet on Monday.
From joint Chinese exercises with Russia to Western concerns that China wants to establish military bases in Africa, NATO’s focus reflects China’s primacy among Western foreign policy concerns, particularly those of US President Joe Biden.
“It’s not about ‘NATO going to China’. It’s about China coming to Europe and we have to do something about it,” said Claudia Major, a defense analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
In 2015, joint military exercises with Russia introduced the Chinese navy into the Mediterranean and the heart of Europe for the first time. Since then, China has built The largest naval fleet The world has invested in vital European infrastructure, including ports and communications networks.
“China [through its navy] Through the Indian Ocean, into the Gulf, up to the Red Sea and they were in the Mediterranean Sea, “according to a British military official, he said that China has not yet deployed submarines in the North Atlantic, but it could do so in the future.
“You build nuclear submarines for range and stealth. And China likes to test the limits.”
The planned joint statement by the Transatlantic Security Alliance, which diplomats said is still under discussion and subject to change, would only be the second time that NATO leaders have directly discussed China. The first was in December 2019, at the insistence of the Donald Trump administration.
But it is understandable that Biden is, too Pushing for a stricter language One of the euphemisms for “opportunities and challenges” used at the time.
However, how to deal with the issue presents a dilemma for the 30-member group, which was originally founded in 1949 to deal with Cold War-era threats.
Internally, NATO countries are divided over how to deal with China: member Hungary, for example, good political relations with Beijing.
In addition, there is a reluctance to confront Beijing in its own Pacific region – even though the UK and France have followed the US in deploying ships to carry out free navigation exercises in the South China Sea.
Some NATO members view the joint military operations between China and Russia as a particularly unwelcome development. In addition to annual military exercises, Beijing and Moscow recently added joint missile defense exercises and training for internal security forces.
“they [the Chinese/Russian] “The relationship is practical and operational, not ideological,” the British military official said. “But working together in any way provides trust. And trust is something we have to be wary of.”
As the epicenter of a new American security, a bipartisan American think tank in a January report: “If Russian and Chinese interests align, Moscow and Beijing can eventually coordinate their joint capabilities to challenge US foreign policy.”
Another NATO concern is Africa, which China could use to expand its military presence in the Atlantic as part of its long-term goal of becoming a truly global armed power.
General Stephen Townsend, head of US Africa Command, US Senate in April His concerns about first-world power competition were what he described as Chinese efforts to establish a militarily useful naval facility on the west coast of Africa. “I am talking about a port where they can rearm with munitions and repair naval vessels,” he said.
Chinese military experts said there was no evidence that Beijing was trying to establish such a base in West Africa, yet. However, China has base in Djibouti It has already used international anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden to train thousands of military personnel and build military ties with countries outside its usual neighbourhood.
Every time a marine unit finishes deploying, for example, it usually takes a turn on the way home. Some have visited the Mediterranean and the east and west coasts of Africa.
Another trend that is bothering NATO allies is the increasing participation of Chinese companies in critical infrastructure in Europe, such as through Huawei telecom company.
It also owns the Chinese state shipping company COSCO controlling stake in Piraeus, the largest port in Greece, is said to be in talks to invest in the port of Hamburg.
Such economic ties complicate NATO’s efforts to create a unified approach to China – as do political relations between Beijing and friendly European leaders.
This creates the potential for clashes, with the tougher stance of Washington’s Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, which was last month He warned that China is ‘coming to us’ In areas including cyberspace, Africa and the Arctic.
“There is a risk that this discussion within NATO will create very uncomfortable differences among allies about how much China is actually a threat,” said Sarah Ryan, an expert in geopolitics and strategy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“The reality is that there are countries that are seen by hawks as making very pro-China arguments within NATO, at least in terms of being strong but not confrontational.”
Additional reporting by Katrina Manson in Washington