NATO Leaders Declare China a Global Security Challenge

BRUSSELS (AP) -
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool via AP)

NATO leaders targeted China in a strongly worded warning Monday, declaring the nation poses a constant security challenge, is trying to undermine world order and is working on nuclear missile development at a worrisome pace.

In a summit statement, the leaders said that China’s goals and “assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security.” The warning to China comes as President Joe Biden has stepped up his effort to rally allies to speak in a more unified voice about China’s human rights record, its trade practices and its military’s increasingly assertive behavior that has unnerved U.S. allies in the Pacific.

While the 30 heads of state and government avoided calling China a rival, they expressed concern about what they said were its “coercive policies,” the opaque ways it is modernizing its armed forces and its use of disinformation.

They called on Beijing to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system.

Biden, who arrived at the summit after three days of consulting with Group of Seven allies in England, pushed for the G-7 communique there that called out what it said were forced labor practices and other human rights violations impacting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province. The president said he was satisfied with the communique, although differences remain among the allies about how forcefully to criticize Beijing.

Biden has used his eight-day trip to Europe to urge allies to work more closely in pressing Russian President Vladimir Putin over his government’s treatment of political dissidents and to do more to stem cyber attacks originating from Russia that have targeted private companies and governments around the globe.

The new Brussels communique states plainly that the NATO nations “will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the alliance.”

But as Biden faced with the G-7 communique, some allies bristled at the NATO effort to speak out on China.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said NATO’s decision to name China as a threat “shouldn’t be overstated” because Beijing, like Russia, is also a partner in some areas. China is Germany’s top trading partner and is heavily dependent on Russia in fulfilling the country’s energy needs.

Merkel noted that “when you look at the cyber threats, the hybrid threats, when you look at the cooperation between Russia and China, you can’t just ignore China.”

But she added that it was important to “find the right balance” as China is also a partner on many issues.

“I think it’s very important, just like we do in Russia, to always make the offer of political discussions, political discourse, in order to come up with solutions,” Merkel said. “But where there are threats, and I said they’re in the hybrid field too, then as NATO you have to be prepared.”

The Chinese Embassy to the United Kingdom on Monday issued a statement saying the G-7 communique “deliberately slandered China and arbitrarily interfered in China’s internal affairs,” and exposed the “sinister intentions of a few countries, such as the United States.” There was no immediate reaction from the Chinese government to the new NATO statement.

Biden arrived at his first NATO summit as president as leading members declared it a pivotal moment for an alliance beleaguered during the presidency of Donald Trump, who questioned the relevance of the multilateral organization.

Shortly after arriving at the alliance’s headquarters for the first NATO summit of his presidency, Biden sat down with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and underscored the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the alliance charter, which spells out that an attack on one member is an attack on all and is to be met with a collective response.

“Article 5 we take as a sacred obligation,” Biden said. “I want NATO to know America is there.”

The alliance also updated Article 5 to offer greater clarity on how the alliance should react to major cyber attacks — a matter of growing concern amid hacks targeting the U.S. government and businesses around the globe by Russia-based hackers.

Beyond extending the potential use of the Article 5 mutual defense clause to space, the leaders also broadened the definition of what might constitute such an attack in cyberspace, in a warning to any adversary that might use constant low-level attacks as a tactic.

The organization declared in 2014 that a cyber attack could be met by a collective response by all 30 member countries, but on Monday they said that “the impact of significant malicious cumulative cyber activities might, in certain circumstances, be considered as amounting to an armed attack.”

The president started his day meeting with leaders of the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank as well as separate meetings with leaders of Poland and Romania to discuss the threat posed by Russia and the recent air piracy in Belarus, according to the White House.

Biden’s itinerary in Europe has been shaped so that he would first gather with G-7 leaders and then with NATO allies in Brussels before his much-anticipated meeting with Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.