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China's Ties to Russia Looms Large at NATO's Madrid Meeting
The Alliance sees Beijing as a growing threat.
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Less than a month after President Joe Biden was sworn into office, he took a 10-minute drive from the White House to the Pentagon to meet with his top military leaders, including Lloyd Austin, his new defense secretary.
Biden was there for one reason: China.
Biden told workers there that he was briefed about a Defense Department-wide task force headed by Austin that would look at “operational concepts, technology, and force posture,” to counter the growing competition from Beijing. Biden said the U.S. will “meet the China challenge” by taking a “whole-of-government effort, bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and strong alliances and partnerships.”
No presidency is ever without surprises, but even with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it seems that it’s China that keeps Washington awake at night.
About a month before Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine, Biden announced that U.S. troops will not fight Russians in Ukraine, which was not protected by NATO’s Article 5. But he said twice -in roughly the same time frame - that U.S. would defend Taiwan against China. (The White House on both occasions corrected the record and said Washington’s position of strategic ambiguity has not changed, but the sentiment was there.)
China has recognized Russia’s security concern over an expanding NATO while calling an end to the conflict. Hua Chunying, the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, said the invasion of Ukraine was not what Beijing hoped to see.
“China has taken a responsible attitude and persuaded all parties not to escalate tensions or incite war,” she said. “Those who follow the U.S.’s lead in fanning up flame and then shifting the blame onto others are truly irresponsible.”
Beijing has lashed out at the U.S. over its interference over Taiwan.
It is widely believed that Putin informed his Chinese counterpart about his intention to invade Ukraine during their meeting at the Opening Ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
"The Chinese side stands ready to work with the Russian side to push for steady and long-term development of practical bilateral cooperation," President Xi JinPing said, after a phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Xi said trade with Russia over the first half of this year has been [in the tens of billions of U.S. dollars] and we “can expect new records in upcoming months, which is a testament to the great cooperation between our two nations.”
CNBC, citing China customs data, reported that trade between China and Russia totaled $65.81 billion in the first five months of this year, which is up 28.9 percent from a year ago.
NATO has taken notice. China will be one of the key topics at the upcoming meeting in Madrid on 28-30 June. Biden is expected to attend after taking part in the G7 in Germany.
A U.S. senior administration official told The South China Morning Post that China will be identified for the first time in the Alliance’s new strategic concept – a document that lays out the policy framework over the next decade.
“China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance. We will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the Alliance. We are increasingly confronted by cyber, hybrid, and other asymmetric threats, including disinformation campaigns, and by the malicious use of ever-more sophisticated emerging and disruptive technologies. Rapid advances in the space domain are affecting our security. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the erosion of the arms control architecture also undermine our collective security. Climate change is a threat multiplier that impacts Alliance security. The greatest responsibility of the Alliance is to protect and defend our territories and our populations against attack, and we will address all threats and challenges which affect Euro-Atlantic security.”
In March, Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said the “real goal” of Washington’s plans in the Pacific was to form a new NATO, according to Bloomberg.
“The perverse actions run counter to the common aspiration of the region for peace, development, cooperation and win-win outcomes,” he said. “They are doomed to fail.”
Hans Binnendijk, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, and Daniel S. Hamilton, a senior nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote in Defense News that the plan should “present a common trans-Atlantic approach with likeminded Asian partners, the Strategic Concept should pursue several institutional steps. For example, it should invite Japan and South Korea to join Australia as high-level NATO partners. Varying levels of enhanced military cooperation could be considered, from information sharing and joint exercises to joint operational planning and establishment of NATO liaison offices in Tokyo and Seoul.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday gave a virtual keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the BRICS Business Forum in Beijing. He said the Ukraine War is “another wake-up call for all in the world.”
“It reminds us that blind faith in the so-called 'position of strength' and attempts to expand military alliances and seek one's own security at the expense of others will only land oneself in a security dilemma,” he said, according to The Global Times, which is a subsidiary of the Communist Party’s People’s Daily. -Edmund DeMarche