NATO allies call China a ‘decisive enabler’ of Russia in Ukraine war as bloc eyes Asia security threats

By Simone McCarthy, CNN

Hong Kong CNN  — 

China is a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s war against Ukraine, NATO leaders said Wednesday, as the defense alliance hardens its stance on Beijing and the “systemic challenges” they say it poses to their countries’ security.

The joint declaration marks NATO’s most pointed tone yet on China’s role in a war that has galvanized the 75-year-old bloc, which celebrated its anniversary this week at a three-day leaders’ summit in Washington hosted by US President Joe Biden.

China’s “no limits” partnership with Russia and its “large-scale support for Russia’s defense industrial base” are enabling Moscow to wage its war, the NATO leaders’ statement said, as they urged Beijing to “cease all material and political support to Russia’s war effort.”

The US and European leaders in recent months have accused China of bolstering Russia’s defense sector with the export of dual-use goods. Beijing has denied supplying weaponry and maintains it keeps strict controls on such goods.

The NATO leaders also elaborated to a greater extent than in the past on concerns over China’s growing capabilities and activities in outer space, and reiterated their previous unease about what they called Beijing’s “malicious cyber and hybrid activities,” including disinformation, and “rapidly” expanding nuclear arsenal.

“We remain open to constructive engagement with the PRC, including to build reciprocal transparency with the view of safeguarding the Alliance’s security interests,” the statement said, referring to China by the initials of its official name.

“At the same time, we are boosting our shared awareness, enhancing our resilience and preparedness, and protecting against the PRC’s coercive tactics and efforts to divide the Alliance.”

The NATO leaders’ declaration Wednesday comes as the 32-member alliance – historically focused on security in North America and Europe – has in recent years upped its engagement with US allies in Asia and increasingly seen its security as linked to the region – even as member countries have pursued divergent policies toward China.

For the third consecutive year, leaders of New Zealand, Japan and South Korea attended the NATO leaders’ summit in another sign of closer ties between the bloc and those countries, as well as Australia.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin for a state visit to China on May 16, 2024.

China and Russia’s tightening ties

Beijing has deepened political, economic and military ties with Moscow since President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in February 2022 declared a “no limits” partnership – and their shared opposition to what they said was NATO’s expansion – during the Russian leader’s visit to the Chinese capital, weeks before his full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

China has surpassed the European Union to become Russia’s top trade partner, offering a crucial lifeline to its economy, which has been heavily sanctioned in the wake of that invasion, while the two nuclear-armed neighbors have continued to hold joint military exercises.

Meanwhile, China has claimed neutrality in the war and sought to posit itself as a potential peace broker, even as the US and European leaders have become increasingly alarmed about what they say is Beijing’s backing of Moscow through its economic and diplomatic support, as well as the provision of dual-use goods.

On Thursday, China criticized the NATO statement as “filled with Cold War mentality and belligerent rhetoric,” and said it was “provocative with obvious lies and smears.”

“China is not the creator to the Ukraine crisis. China’s position on Ukraine is open and aboveboard. We aim to promote peace talks and seek political settlement,” a statement from its mission to the European Union said.

The Chinese statement also reiterated Beijing’s position that it has never provided lethal weapons in the conflict and has strict dual-use export controls, defending its trade with Russia as “normal.”

The US and European leaders have in recent months raised alarm that such exports are revitalizing Russia’s defense sector and allowing it to survive despite hefty international sanctions. The US has said that dual-use exports have specifically enabled the production of tanks, munitions and armored vehicles.

Both the US and the EU have sanctioned Chinese entities they allege are supporting the war effort.

NATO’s increasing focus on Asia

The NATO leaders’ declaration is the latest step in what has been the bloc’s gradual hardening of tone on China in recent years.

NATO leaders first mentioned the need to jointly address “opportunities and challenges” posed by China in a 2019 declaration, before moving to refer to “systemic challenges” the country poses in 2021.

That shift has come alongside an increased US policy focus on the Indo-Pacific amid a deepening rivalry with Beijing as China under Xi’s leadership has grown increasingly aggressive in the region and in its broader foreign policy.

NATO’s attention on Asia has also been accelerated over the past two and a half years by hardening geopolitical fault lines in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Kremlin’s tightening relationship with not only China but also North Korea and Iran.

NATO leaders on Wednesday also said Pyongyang and Tehran were “fueling” Russia’s war through “direct military support,” and condemned North Korea’s exports of “artillery shells and ballistic missiles” to Russia – which multiple governments say they have tracked since last year when Putin hosted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the Russian Far East.

“The Indo-Pacific is important for NATO, given that developments in that region directly affect Euro-Atlantic security,” the leaders said in their declaration.

“We are strengthening dialogue to tackle cross-regional challenges and are enhancing our practical cooperation, including through flagship projects in the areas of supporting Ukraine, cyber defense, countering disinformation, and technology,” it said.

Beijing has watched warily as NATO’s engagement grows with other powers in the Asia-Pacific. China is widely seen by observers as hoping to be the dominant force in the region and to push back on the US presence there, as Washington bolsters its longstanding Indo-Pacific security partnerships and interests.

China and Russia have also converged over their shared opposition to NATO, part of a broader aspiration from both to reshape a world order they see as unfairly dominated by the US, and both have blamed the Western security alliance for provoking Moscow to invade Ukraine.

In its statement Thursday, Beijing’s EU mission called on NATO to “correct its wrong perception of China,” and “abandon the Cold War mentality and zero-sum game.”

“The Asia-Pacific region is a place for peaceful development, not a wrestling ground for geopolitical competition … NATO should not become the disrupter of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific,” the statement said.

Related Articles

Back to top button