What China Really Means When It Talks About NATO’s Eastward Expansion

Now, as China faces pressure from the West to condemn the Russian invasion, it is ramping up similar rhetoric about the American presence in Asia.

In recent days, senior Chinese foreign ministry officials and influential Communist Party publications have accused the US of seeking to create a NATO-like bloc in the Indo-Pacific region, with one official warning of “unimaginable” consequences if that happens.

At a conference in Beijing on Saturday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said the Ukraine crisis could be used as a “mirror” to monitor the security situation in the Asia-Pacific region.

Le did not name the USA, but he explicitly mentioned the Indo-Pacific Strategy, a plan that the Biden administration detailed last month. strengthen America’s role in the regionfor example, by supporting democracy and strengthening their alliances and partnerships, including with Taiwan.

The creation of “closed and closed small circles or groups” in the region is “as dangerous as NATO’s eastward expansion strategy in Europe,” Le said at an event at Tsinghua University, according to a version of the speech released by China’s foreign ministry.

“If allowed to continue unchecked, it will lead to unimaginable consequences and ultimately push the Asia-Pacific region to the brink,” he said.

Chinese criticism of NATO follows efforts to present itself as a neutral player in the Ukraine crisis, refusing to condemn Russia’s attacks on civilians while highlighting its humanitarian aid to Ukraine and denying it has considered providing military support to Moscow.

However, China’s attempt to draw parallels between the US strategy in the Indo-Pacific region and “NATO eastward expansion” in Europe closely echoes Moscow’s statements, raising serious doubts about Beijing’s supposed neutrality.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has repeatedly tried to use concerns about NATO to justify his brutal invasion of Ukraine. Now, experts say, China is trying to use the current crisis in Ukraine not only to reinforce the image of the US as the alleged instigator of the conflict, whether in Europe or Asia, but also to warn of the consequences if the US and countries in the region united against China.

China is taking advantage of the crisis

Washington’s focus on the Indo-Pacific comes as China pursues a more aggressive foreign policy, doubling down on its territorial claims and taking a tougher stance in response to perceived challenges.

In recent years, China has disavowed a UN tribunal’s decision to reject its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea, while continuing to militarize its positions and pursue other claimants. It has also stepped up its threats against a self-governing Taiwan, with a record number of fighter incursions into the island’s air defense identification zone in recent months.

“It’s no surprise that China has taken advantage of the Ukraine crisis to lash out at the Indo-Pacific strategy,” said Li Mingjiang, assistant professor and chair of international relations at the T. S. Rajaratnam (RSIS) in Singapore. Nanyang Technological University.

Li pointed to China’s “growing concern” about the rejuvenation of the “Quad” security forum between India, Japan, Australia and the US and the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the UK and the US, as well as the strong commitment from the US to maintain its longstanding role in the region. outlined in Biden’s Indo-Pacific Strategy last month.

“The intention is clear: China wants to send a signal to the US and the countries in the region that the Indo-Pacific strategy and US security alliances can also lead to some security dynamics (compared to those seen in Europe) involving Russia.” . Lee said.

The message is also being sent ahead of Thursday’s “extraordinary” NATO summit, where US President Joe Biden will meet with allied leaders in Brussels to discuss the situation in Ukraine, further demonstrating the bloc’s remarkable solidarity since the war began. the crisis.

Message to America

Deputy Foreign Minister Le’s warnings about the US presence in the Indo-Pacific region were echoed by China’s ambassador to ASEAN on Monday at a press conference in Jakarta.

There, Ambassador Deng Xijun accused the US of “creating a set of ‘thug rules’ while claiming to maintain the international order” and leading the region “down the path of evil,” according to Chinese state-run The Paper.

A similar tone was adopted in an article published in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army daily, which was republished last weekend on the website of the influential Communist Party magazine Qiushi. cause of the ongoing souring and escalation of the Ukrainian issue.”

This is not the first time China has attempted to draw parallels between US strategy in the Indo-Pacific and NATO in recent years, and these concerns lie at the heart of a key position that has brought Russia and China closer together: their mutual distrust of the US.

This was highlighted in a 5,000-word joint statement released weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, in which both sides expressed their opposition to “further NATO expansion” and pledged to “remain highly vigilant about the negative impact of American Indo-Pacific strategy.”

But experts note that there are huge differences between NATO, the security alliance and the US strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, which is not only about security, but also includes a range of political measures. The US, which has its own long border in the Pacific Ocean and the island nation of Hawaii, also has territories in the Indo-Pacific region, including Guam.

Other countries have also stepped up activities in the region in an attempt to counter Chinese influence. Last year the UK sent greatest concentration of sea and air power for joint exercises in the Philippine Sea, and Germany sent a warship across the South China Sea for the first time in almost two decades. France also announced a plan last year develop maritime cooperation with the South Pacific. China has often resisted such moves, denouncing what it sees as attempts to contain it.

China’s stance, meanwhile, ignores the fact that the US security partnership emerged in response to China’s rapid military modernization, according to Drew Thompson, senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

According to Thompson, the US is “increasingly drawn into deeper and stronger security alliances due to (Chinese military) modernization” and Beijing’s “lack of openness and transparency” towards its neighbors about its intentions.

But Chinese leaders “do not see a link between other countries in the region immune to China’s military modernization” through relations with the US, he added.

Taiwan issue

Another issue much closer to home may also explain why China is keen to voice its concerns about the US in the Asia-Pacific amid the Ukraine crisis: Taiwan.

This It was said during a 110-minute video call between US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Friday, in which Xi’s concerns about Taiwan were clearly the focus of the Chinese side.

“Some people in the US have sent the wrong signal to the Taiwan independence forces. It is very dangerous. Wrong handling of the Taiwan issue will have a devastating impact on bilateral relations,” Xi told Biden, according to a foreign ministry report.

Analysts are comparing authoritarian threats to Ukraine and Taiwan, a self-governing island democracy that Beijing calls its own and does not rule out the possibility of a takeover by force. Earlier this month, a group of former US Department of Defense and Security officials traveled to Taipei to show American support for the European crisis.

It also ties into China’s larger concerns in the Indo-Pacific region, RSIS’ Li said.

“If there is a conflict over the Taiwan issue, the worst-case scenario (for China) is that not only will China have to wage war against Taiwan, against the US, but perhaps some US allies will become involved against China. ,” he said.

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