China Becomes a Bigger Mark on NATO’s Radar With New Report

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization took another step toward making China a strategic focal point after the alliance published a report stressing Chinese geopolitical threats.

The study, from a group of experts assembled by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for the 30-nation NATO, includes recommendations on bolstering its political cohesion and ability to face new security challenges. China features prominently.

“NATO must devote much more time, political resources and action to the security challenges posed by China -- based on an assessment of its national capabilities, economic heft, and the stated ideological goals of its leaders,” the experts said in the report released in Brussels on Tuesday. “It needs to develop a political strategy for approaching a world in which China will be of growing importance through to 2030.”

The recommendations follow a series of high-profile splits in NATO. The organization has been shaken over the past four years by U.S. President Donald Trump’s vocal demands for European countries to spend more on defense and his unilateral changes to the deployment of American troops abroad.

“China’s coming closer to us, investing heavily in infrastructure in NATO countries in Europe,” Stoltenberg told reporters Tuesday after the first part of a two-day video conference of the alliance’s foreign ministers. It’s the last such meeting for U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo as NATO waits for President-elect Joe Biden to take office Jan. 20 and anticipates smoother transatlantic ties.

On Wednesday, in the first NATO event of its kind, the alliance’s foreign ministers will be joined by representatives of Asia-Pacific countries -- including Japan and Australia -- in an online session devoted to China.

The Chinese government said it was committed to “peaceful development and win-win cooperation” with the rest of the world.

“Our development advances will not pose a threat or challenge to anyone else,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing on Wednesday. “We hope NATO will look at our development in an objective, positive and open way.”

Political Tensions

NATO was established 71 years ago to deter a Soviet Union that collapsed in 1991. It’s now focusing again on threats posed by Russia as a result of its renewed muscle-flexing, pursuing anti-terrorism policies taken up after the 2001 attacks in the U.S. and seeking to adapt to the rise of China.

In December 2019, a NATO summit for the first time mentioned challenges posed by China.

In this context, the U.S.-dominated alliance is trying to prevent a repeat of internal political tensions that boiled over in the wake of a Turkish incursion into northern Syria in October 2019 to challenge Kurdish forces.

Turkey, which has NATO’s second-biggest army, received Trump’s approval for the military operation that European countries opposed. This prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to say a lack of strategic cooperation among NATO members showed the alliance was suffering a “brain death” -- a remark that irritated many countries in the alliance including Germany.

The German government then pushed for NATO to create an expert group to advise member countries on future transatlantic security challenges -- a proposal endorsed by the alliance’s leaders at their meeting a year ago in London.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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