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Nato warns for the first time of rising military ‘challenge’ from China

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The Independent

Kim Sengupta

Soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army fire a mortar during a live-fire military exercise last month (Reuters)

Soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army fire a mortar during a live-fire military exercise last month (Reuters)

Joe Biden’s first Nato summit as US president ended with the alliance declaring that China was challenging the rules-based international order and western security with its authoritarian and aggressive behaviour.

The decision to focus criticism on China in the official communique by Nato – an organisation set up to counter Russia in post-Second World War Europe – follows efforts by the US administration to get western allies to confront Beijing’s expansionist policies and abuse of human rights.

On the way to the conference in Brussels, the US national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, stated that “China will feature in the communique in a more robust way than we’ve ever seen before.” The alliance leaders agreed to the strong statement, although ultimately the decision was taken to refer to Chinese behaviour as a “challenge” rather than a “threat”.

The document stated: “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security.”

It continued: “China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal, is ‘opaque’ in the modernisation of its military, and is cooperating militarily with Russia. We remain concerned with China’s frequent lack of transparency and use of disinformation.”

Nato’s statement followed criticism of China in the meeting of the G7 group of leaders hosted by the UK in Cornwall at the weekend, over human rights abuses of the Uyghur community in Xinjiang, its conduct following the takeover of Hong Kong, and military threats towards Taiwan. The European Union has meanwhile designated Beijing a “systemic rival”.

There is, however, apprehension among a number of Nato states that taking too combative a stance with Beijing will harm them economically.

Boris Johnson was forced to reverse his government’s decision to allow the Chinese multinational, Huawei, to be involved in the UK’s 5G network, after fierce pressure from the US. Arriving at the Summit, Mr Johnson said: “I don’t think anybody around the table wants to descend into a new cold war with China.”

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