As you know, China’s former head of state Deng Xiaoping used an old saying to describe the country’s foreign policy after the end of the Cold War: “Hide our strength, wait for our time.” Those days are long gone.
China is now facing a world that increasingly regards its economic and military power as a threat to be faced, as the NATO leaders made clear at their summit in Brussels.
While China poses practically no direct military threat to Europe, NATO’s home field, it can now use its military power in ways that were unthinkable just a few years ago – not just in Asia, but worldwide.
Chinese officials reacted with anger and contempt to the NATO statement, accusing the Alliance of reusing outdated Cold War strategies. A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday that clique formation and forcing countries to choose sides were doomed strategies.
While the NATO leaders met in Brussels, the American aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and several other warships moved into the disputed waters of the South China Sea, with the group’s commander, Rear Admiral Will Pennington, pledging to protect “under international law and rules-based” Order â€, a formulation that reflects the NATO communiquÃ©. Hours later, 28 Chinese fighter jets and other aircraft – the largest fleet in years – carried out their own show of force over the waters south of Taiwan, the island democracy that China claims for itself.
Just days earlier, the group of 7 leaders, meeting in Cornwall, England, had first issued a statement on Taiwan calling on China to establish peace and stability in the strait after a series of threatening Chinese military operations like these to support Tuesday.
The statements by the Group of Seven and NATO are in part the implementation of President Biden’s strategy of building a coalition of like-minded nations to confront China for its activities.
Although largely symbolic, they have deepened for Beijing a sense of the crisis in relations with the United States that now threatens to spread to Europe. China’s head of state Xi Jinping and high-ranking diplomats have held a series of meetings and video conferences with European heads of state and government in recent months to prevent such an alliance from growing together.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said on Tuesday that Mr. Biden had achieved remarkable success in gaining allies and strengthening America’s position in the world after the mess of the Trump years the initially chaotic American response to the coronavirus pandemic improved.
“All of this means one thing: to make China suffer setbacks and trauma as fully and deeply as possible,” he said.
In its communiquÃ©, NATO did not make China a threat, as Russia did under President Vladimir V. Putin, and even called for deeper cooperation on issues such as climate change. At the same time, she noted that China had grown steadily closer to its neighbor and had joined the Russians in military training exercises and operations, including in the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea.
NATO leaders cited China’s rising military spending, its modernizing nuclear arsenal, “advances in space,” as well as cyberwar and asymmetric activities, including the spread of disinformation. They pointed out that China’s military might and â€œassertive behaviorâ€ challenged the security interests of the Alliance’s 30 member states in Europe and North America.
“China is getting closer to us,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the end of the alliance leaders’ summit.
What NATO warned about China is little new.
The Pentagon has published annual reports on China’s growing military capabilities since 2000, detailing the steady progress it has made in its armed forces. In some areas, the latest report found, it has already outperformed the American military, by far the most powerful and best funded. These include naval, air and missile forces, which for the first time in modern history have given China the ability to project power far beyond its immediate territorial waters.
What has changed in a relatively short period of time are beliefs about the threat posed by China.
NATO barely mentioned China at its last summit in 2019, but has now put it at the top of the alliance’s security agenda, reflecting growing ambivalence about China’s rise.
Since the election of Mr. Biden, tensions like this have increased, particularly over Taiwan.
The military balance between China and Taiwan has shifted dramatically in Beijing’s favor as the country built its capabilities, including naval, air and amphibious assault ships, which it is now using in exercises simulating an invasion.
This has led analysts inside and outside China to speculate that Mr. Xi, China’s leader, is considering a military move to conquer the island. Admiral Philip S. Davidson, then head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, warned Congress in March that China could try within the next six years.
Not all countries in NATO or the Group of Seven share Mr Biden’s eagerness to isolate China, differences highlighted in comments made by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Emmanuel Macron of France and others. “NATO is an organization that affects the North Atlantic,” said Macron, as reported by Politico. “China has little to do with the North Atlantic.”
Chinese officials claim the country remains committed to peaceful development and international cooperation through the United Nations. They accuse the United States and others of thwarting their inevitable rise as a world power.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Tuesday accused NATO of hypocrisy, noting that the alliance’s collective military spending far exceeded that of China. He also criticized the role of NATO members in the wars from Iraq to Syria. “The history of NATO is full of notorious misdeeds,” he said.
He and others also named perhaps the lowest point in China’s relations with the West to date: the NATO air strike in 1999, which severely damaged the Chinese embassy in the Serbian capital Belgrade during the war in Kosovo. The United States said the bombing, which killed three people, was a tragic mistake.
“China will not pose ‘systemic challenges’ to anyone,” said China’s mission to the European Union in Brussels in a statement posted on Weibo, a popular social media site, “but if someone wants to pose ‘systemic challenges’ to us , we will not remain indifferent. “
China’s protests ignore or underestimate the impact of the country’s actions on its position, which has collapsed in many countries in recent years, including those that are NATO members.
Deadly clashes along the border with India in 2020 put a heavy strain on relations that were booming. China has also cut away parts of the disputed territory with tiny Bhutan. His swarming of dormant “fishing” ships and islands in the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines could push that country back into a closer alliance with the United States, which had frayed under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Xi appeared to be feeling a problem with China’s reputation late last month when he spoke to party leaders about the need to create “a credible, lovable, and respectable image” for the country. His recipe, however, was to be more aggressive against criticism.
An example of this was when Li Yang, China’s consul general in Rio de Janeiro, turned a photo of a sleeping elephant herd in southern China into a bizarre warning on Twitter. He said that “some western politicians” wanted to suppress China and then used an aphorism from the Maoist era. “You will only come across shotguns in China !!!” (The post was later deleted.)
Keith Bradsher Contributed reporting and Claire Fu Research contributed.