'Victim complex' drives NATO to view China as a rival
Published: Dec 02, 2020 09:07 PM

NATO leaders pose for a group photo at the NATO Summit in London, Britain, on December 4, 2019. Photo: Xinhua

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) foreign ministers will hold a virtual session on Wednesday, with the attendance of non-NATO colleagues, to address a rising China that has become a "full-spectrum systemic rival," for which analysts  warned China to get prepared for possible coercion from the organization and its non-member partners although NATO's influence and relevance have been declining.

NATO, born along with the Cold War, cannot cast aside its ideology-driven strategy in assessing the situation and making policies, but it is also facing problems from within and a more complicated world that limits its expansion of targets, observers said.

The meeting came after NATO released a report on Tuesday that called for more time and resources to deal with security challenges posed by China, though Russia will remain its main adversary. The NATO 2030 report cited China's development of aircraft carriers, nuclear arsenals and space-based capabilities as evidence, and urge members to "build resilience and counter cyber attacks and disinformation that originate in China," and "assess the implications for Allies' security of China's technology capability development."

NATO is seen as an outdated organization that has no reason to exist if it does not set an enemy and vigorously hype threats from the enemy.

But the "threats" are imaginary out of victim paranoia, analysts said, noting China has always uphold peaceful development, posing no military threats to NATO members at all, and stigmatizing Chinese technology development just aims to portray China  as an enemy. 

Zhang Junshe, a senior research fellow at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the NATO report is heavily influenced by the US' Cold War mentality.

Except for some friendly visits and joint exercises, which are by no means dangerous, the Chinese military has almost never reached the regions the NATO report cited to prove China's increasing reach - Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Arctic, Zhang said, noting the report is really hyping up the "China threat" theory.

China pursues a national defense policy that is defensive in nature, and its weapons are developed for self-defense. China is the only major nuclear power that has promised not to be the first to use a nuclear weapon, Zhang said.  

However, unlike the incumbent US administration, not all NATO members deem China as a top threat and the organization is facing a split from within, meaning "it does not have what it takes to realize its overly big vision," Zhang said, citing the example that the UK, a more powerful country in NATO, plans to send its aircraft carrier to the South China Sea, but its current limited capability does not allow it to do so.

US president-elect Joe Biden has vowed to strengthen ties with NATO and US allies, and uniting Europe will be his priority. Facing this luring offer from the US, the Europe may swing again, being hesitant in front of its independent foreign policy established during the Trump administration.

But observers believe that "America First" has had a profound influence on US policymaking and society, which leaves limited room for Biden to adjust. Bearing a Cold War legacy like NATO, the Europe has a historic opportunity to reflect on and reshape its long-term relationship with the US and embark on a road of foreign policy independence to serve Europe's own interests.

He Weiwen, a former senior trade official and an executive council member of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies, warned on Wednesday that Biden, after assuming office, will definitely use the US alliance system to counter China in certain sectors - and technology will be among the ones in which China will face more pressure, He said.

Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday that NATO calling China a "challenge" and not an immediate "threat" suggested it is still struggling with its judgment of China and consistent policies, which will be decided by China-US, China-EU and US-EU relations.

Closer US-EU relations may lead to their joint strategic adversity toward China, for which China can take the initiative in communicating its development path to the world to disperse concerns and mistrust, Cui said, noting it is a difficult task but will win China support from those thought different from the US. 

The Chinese Foreign Ministry at Tuesday's routine press conference called for NATO to look at China's development in a rational manner. "China's development is an opportunity for the world, not a threat to anyone. We will stay committed to the right path of peace and cooperation…China stands ready to conduct dialogue and cooperation with NATO on the basis of equality and mutual respect," ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said. 

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks at the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) in Hawalli Governorate, Kuwait, on Dec. 16, 2019. The NATO secretary general said on Monday that NATO seeks to increase cooperation with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Jens Stoltenberg made the remarks during the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the ICI held in Kuwait City. (Photo by Asad/Xinhua)


Beyond NATO 

The NATO foreign ministers' meeting on Wednesday also saw the participation of non-NATO countries, including Japan and Australia, prompting voices warning of an alliance beyond the NATO framework to contain China. 

Observers reached by the Global Times believe seeking partnership outside the organization is not a new practice, and NATO has difficulty extending outside Europe. 

NATO was criticized in late 2019 by French President Emmanuel Macron as "brain dead" when the US alienated its transatlantic allies, Reuters reported. This may change but other tensions, like budget-sharing and how much resources should be shifted from Russia, remain unsolved problems. 

However, Cui still warned about areas where NATO could cast an influence or grasp as leverage to stir trouble for China. 

According to Cui, NATO can politicize economic cooperation and trade, claiming totally safe infrastructure and energy, as well as communication projects in Europe as jeopardizing their security. NATO members with a clear anti-China stance will also use media and the public sphere to demonize China and prove "it is a threat."

Experts noted China should push forward trade talks to increase contacts and offset the negative impact of NATO. China will not hide differences but seek to settle disputes through dialogue.

Leaders from China and the EU have pledged to speed up negotiations on the Bilateral Investment Treaty to achieve the goal of concluding the pact within the year. 

China and the EU have held six rounds of negotiations so far this year and made positive progress on the text and lists, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the technology sector, China's strategy will not change due to external forces. "Going its own way, but at the same time seeking cooperation," or a competitive cooperation relationship will be the path for a long time, He Weiwen said. 

Outside Europe, NATO could use China's neighbors as leverage to create trouble, Cui said, citing issues such as China-India border disputes, the Diaoyu Islands and the South China Sea as possible areas that NATO would want to touch via non-member "friends."

By appropriately handling relationships with surrounding countries and acting as a contributor to regional peace and stability, China will give NATO little room to meddle in, Cui said.

China is actively engaging neighboring countries that have territorial disputes with it to control conflicts and solve the problems through diplomatic channels and dialogue.