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Three Key Points on NATO’s Strategic Focus on China at the 2024 Summit

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Three Key Points on NATO’s Strategic Focus on China at the 2024 Summit

Forumul Economic Regional Moldova 2024 – Vatra Dornei, 4–6 iulie

U.S. and NATO officials have highlighted the deepening relationship between Russia and China, particularly Beijing’s exports to Moscow of goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes, enabling Russia’s war in Ukraine to continue.

Outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “Beijing is sharing high-end technologies like semiconductors and other dual-use items. Last year, Russia imported 90% of its microelectronics from China, used to produce missiles, tanks, and aircraft. China is also working to provide Russia with improved satellite capability and imagery. All of this enables Moscow to inflict more deaths and destruction on Ukraine, bolster Russia’s defense industrial base, and evade the impact of sanctions and export controls.” China has repeatedly denied exporting dual-use items to Russia. When asked about Stoltenberg’s criticism of Beijing’s support for Russia, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that NATO “has been challenging China, interfering in China’s domestic affairs, misrepresenting and vilifying our domestic and foreign policies, and seriously challenging China’s interests and security.” China’s militarization in the South China Sea and its recent aggressive confrontation with the Philippines in disputed waters have also aroused NATO’s concern.

What signal will NATO send to China?

The summit is expected to send a tougher signal than ever on China issues. Stoltenberg previously said that China could not support Russia in the war in Ukraine while expecting to maintain good relations with the West. “Beijing cannot have it both ways. At some point, and unless China changes its course, allies need to impose a cost,” Stoltenberg said. David Sacks, a researcher on Asia issues at the Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA, “I think this has deterrent power because it’s showing China that if it tries to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait through aggression, it’s not just the United States that will respond, but it potentially has to factor in as well NATO’s economic response, which raises the costs to the Chinese leadership.”

Will NATO confront China head-on?

Experts stressed that NATO’s China program still has limitations, and that the allies’ positions on China-related issues are inconsistent. NATO had planned to set up a liaison office in Tokyo, making it a useful platform for NATO to cooperate with Indo-Pacific partners. But because of opposition from some member states, no progress has been made. A U.S. administration official said NATO’s deterrence strategy will still focus on continental Europe and the Atlantic region. “The effort last year to try to create a liaison office in Tokyo, which was frankly fairly benign — it wasn’t going to cause a big deal — but that probably isn’t the right course of action. It was blocked by France and other European members and is unlikely to get off the ground,” Max Bergmann, director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said at a background briefing on the NATO summit. U.S. State Department officials said NATO currently has no plans to set up a liaison office in Tokyo. Douglas Jones, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs, said there is no active discussion on the subject within NATO now. Alicja Bachulska, a policy researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA via email, “The potential for NATO to become a platform for allies and partners to discuss China-related issues has been so far explored only to a limited extent.” Sacks said not all NATO countries have the strength to confront China. “I don’t think that most NATO allies necessarily have the capacity to really project power in a significant way into the Indo-Pacific,” he said. “You’ll see some freedom-of-navigation operations from some NATO members, which shows their interest or their stake in preserving freedom of navigation in the Pacific. But I don’t think that really adds to the military deterrence in a meaningful way.” He said the summit needs to avoid angering China in its wording and make it clear that NATO’s expansion of membership will not include countries in the Indo-Pacific region. “That’s how you preempt the Chinese narrative that the United States is trying to create a NATO for Asia or expand NATO into Asia,” Sacks said.

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