‘Challenges that rise of China poses to security’ must be addressed, says Stoltenberg, as critical meeting gets under way.
As NATO leaders gather for a critical summit, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has called for the transatlantic security alliance to confront challenges posed by China and respond to Beijing’s growing economic, political and military power.
Stoltenberg on Monday denied that Western powers and China were entering a “new Cold War”, but said Beijing did not share the values of the 30-member group.
“China is not our adversary, not our enemy. But we need to address together as an alliance the challenges that the rise of China poses to our security,” he told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, before leaders began arriving for the summit.
“China is coming closer to us. We see them in cyberspace, we see China in Africa, but we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure.”
NATO leaders are expected to brand China a security risk at the summit, US President Joe Biden’s first since winning the election last year.
Diplomats told Reuters the final communique would not call China an adversary but would demonstrate concern, describing a “systemic” challenge to Atlantic security as it joins Russia with military drills, launches cyberattacks and rapidly builds up its navy.
The expected move comes days after G7 nations scolded Beijing over its alleged human rights abuses against the minority Uighur population in its Xinjiang region.
The group of wealthy nations also called for a high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong and demanded a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said NATO, of which the United Kingdom is a member, did not want a new cold war with China but said Beijing posed challenges for the alliance.
“I think people see challenges, they see things that we have to manage together, but they also see opportunities,” he said as he arrived to the summit.
China has consistently dismissed mounting Western criticism. The G7’s conclusions were “baseless accusations”, China’s embassy in London said on Monday.
“Stop slandering China, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop harming China’s interests,” a spokesman said.
Stoltenberg said NATO leaders also want to reaffirm the alliance’s “dual-track approach” to Russia involving military deterrence, including the deployment of alliance troops in the Baltic countries and Poland, and dialogue.
He told The Times Radio on Sunday that relations between NATO and Moscow were now at their “lowest point since the end of the Cold War”.
“We see the willingness to use military force against neighbours; Ukraine, Georgia. But we also see cyberattacks,” he said.
“We see attempts to meddle in our political democratic processes, to undermine the trust in our institutions and efforts to divide us.”
As she arrived at the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “The issues on the agenda today concern us all. First of all the challenge we are facing: Russia but also the Indo-Pacific region with China in increasing measure.
“Hybrid challenges are becoming increasingly important: cyber attacks and, especially with regard to Russia, disinformation campaigns.”
Merkel and other NATO leaders expect Biden to recommit Washington to the alliance’s collective defence after his predecessor Donald Trump’s confrontational rhetoric at summits created an impression of crisis, envoys told Reuters.
“We believe that NATO is vital to our ability to maintain American security and I want them to know that NATO is a sacred obligation,” Biden said on Sunday as the G7 summit closed, before flying to Brussels.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Brussels, said: “What Biden will be trying to do is rebuild trust with allies, because that trust has been badly eroded in the past few years under Donald Trump.”
The NATO meeting comes ahead of the US president’s much-anticipated talks with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva.