China brings peace, NATO war?

14.08.2023

The NATO summit took place a month ago on July 11 in Vilnius. One of the focal points of the meeting was the expansion of NATO’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific region in response to Beijing’s global actions, which continue to challenge the Alliance’s interests, security and values. It was decided that NATO will deepen ties through partnership programs tailored to common themes such as maritime security, cyber security, climate change, resilience and new technologies.

The announcement came after the rejection of NATO’s Japan office, which was apparently opposed by France and also drew strong criticism from China. French President Emmanuel Macron emphasized that NATO should continue to focus on the North Atlantic region.

 

“NATO shows its true colors as a war machine”

Chen Weihua, head of the Brussels-based China Daily’s EU bureau, wrote an article criticizing NATO’s plans and concluding that the summit was not focused on peace, but instead on war and how to prolong the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

“The July 7 announcement by the United States to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions, which are banned in more than 120 countries, overshadowed the meeting of 31 NATO members even before it began. The deafening silence of the leaders of NATO member states regarding the US decision reveals the cowardice and hypocrisy of the military alliance led by Washington.”

It was emphasized that NATO members will increase their military spending by 8.3 percent in 2023. Chen Weihua accuses NATO of being aggressive and refusing to recognize that it is not a defense organization, but instead promotes wars in places like Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. This has resulted in countless innocent civilian deaths and billions in economic damage. These should be seen as war crimes that the Western leaders of the EU, US and UK refuse to acknowledge.

It is precisely this rhetoric that China has emphasized for a long time, presenting the West as an aggressive force in the world that disturbs the peace and constantly wants to assert its influence violently. China continues to portray itself as a promoter of peace as it does not actively contribute to war, but instead uses economic and political means to support unfriendly NATO parties. Such an approach can be found both in the Ukrainian war and in other situations.

 

The changes to come

In the era of “great changes unseen in a century”, China’s leadership and Chinese intellectuals are deploying a new vocabulary to describe the geopolitical shifts underway; but there is no Chinese equivalent of a Zeitenwende for how the country relates to the rest of the world. Instead, they see the conflict through the prism of wider global changes – and are making their decisions around those considerations rather than worrying too much about conditions within Ukraine.

While they vary in their assessments, Chinese observers of the war in Ukraine worry about the competence of a declining and potentially erratic Russia. But their fear of American victory or regime change in Moscow leads to a desire to prevent the Kremlin from failing.

At the same time, conversations with many Chinese intellectuals reveal that they identify an opportunity for Beijing to exploit Western weaknesses to make China more secure, both domestically and internationally, by expanding its ties with the global south, nurturing an image as a peace broker, and speeding up its efforts to become more economically self-reliant. And, by giving its tacit approval to the war in Ukraine while trying to present itself as neutral, China is trying to strike a balance between maintaining its pacifistic façade and the pursuit of outright revisionism.

In the economic realm, the war in Ukraine has given additional impetus to China’s own efforts to become less reliant on foreign partners and more secure in the face of external shocks. Although this trend towards achieving greater self-reliance started long before Russia’s aggression, the sense of urgency over preparing for sanctions now seems much higher in Beijing. The potential threat contained within economic interdependence identified by Chinese intellectuals mirrors these official concerns. Western sanctions and Russia’s responses to them provide a testing ground for China’s own efforts to become more resilient in the future.

 

NATO’s expansion into Asia

Chen Weihua goes on to say that many former US officials and foreign policy observers have said that NATO’s expansion since the 1990s was the main trigger for the Russia-Ukraine conflict. And although French President Emmanuel Macron has currently suspended NATO’s plan to open a liaison office in Japan, the issue will be raised again in the near future.

The author emphasizes that NATO continues its eastward expansion efforts, even into Asia and the Pacific region. To use the words of Paul Keating, NATO is trying to bring the plague to Asia, a region that has seen no war for decades – only unprecedented peace and economic development.

China is protecting its territory and influence in the region. This, of course, does not sit well with its neighbors such as Japan and South Korea, which are more Western-oriented and maintain close ties with the United States. China is known for using its “soft power” strategy to expand its influence around the world. The Chinese are buying up critical infrastructure and companies in Europe and Africa and are imposing their influence in very insidious ways. NATO’s presence in Asia would also give Taiwan more confidence that it would not submit so easily to Beijing and its demands. All of this could add further friction to the Taiwan conflict, as China has already demonstrated its military might by conducting military exercises near Taiwan and in its airspace.

NATO’s expansion into Asia is seen by the Chinese as yet another attempt at American domination. And they don’t like it one bit.