Alwaght- NATO leaders started their summit in London on Tuesday marking the 70th anniversary of the military organization foundation. At this summit too, the US tried to call focus to China as a new challenge deserving attention by the bloc.
Last week, a State Department official said that during meetings with the NATO leaders in London, American President Donald Trump will discuss the threats originating from China including Beijing’s domination over the emerging Fifth Generation communications, or 5G. The American official said that China poses challenges to NATO and wants to undermine the law-based international order. China is increasingly seeking presence and influence across the world, including in NATO’s sphere of responsibility.
But given the wide-range division racking the NATO cohesion of stances, the question is that to what degree we could expect the Western military organization to reach a shared stance on China risks and the need to confront them.
Trade war: Washington worried about Beijing’s global economic influence
The trade war is now the main field where China and the US are at each other’s throats. It is the main area the US seeks to contain a rising China prospectively. Over the past years, the American officials complained that China steals their companies’ technologies leaving them with billions of dollars in damages and millions of job opportunities migrating from the US economy to China’s, beside putting the American national security at stake.
The US warns its allies to avoid using the Huawei communication systems, saying that they could be used for espionage. In 2012, the Congress Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence advised the American administration institutions should not employ Huawei or ZTE communication facilities, both Chinese communications giants, systems. This included contractors working on sensitive systems in the US. Washington is now worried that economic influence will give Beijing pressure instruments used against the European states. One important case is the increasing Chinese property and investment in the European maritime facilities and ports which are vital to NATO and the US militarily.
The fast-growing Chinese defense industry is another reason driving Trump to wage trade war in Beijing. The Americans are worried that China’s defense products may find their way to the European markets. China has already expanded its arms sales to West Asia, Africa, and Central Asia. Trump seized an opportunity provided by the NATO meeting to press for the EU not to open its doors to the Chinese arms. But the US does not seem so successful in doing so as on Sunday, French defense minister blasted the White House pressures on Europe to exclusively buy arms from American companies.
Two sides of Atlantic’s different vision of China
NATO is mainly worried about the Chinese navy that is now active, in association with Russia’s, in the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. China’s army forces have constantly taken part in military drills in Russia. This presence has been witnessed in the region when Georgia and Ukraine crises erupted. A recent China-Russia joint war games using strategic long-range bombers around the Korean Peninsula sends a signal to the West: China and Russia are not only diplomatic allies. They are allies in practice and operation.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg asked an assessment of the consequences of the Chinese power gain and the presence of the rising Asian power in North Atlantic. In an early visit to Australia, Stoltenberg sail that China is a growing source of concern. Although NATO has no plan to expand to the Pacific Ocean, China is crawling toward European borders, he continued. The European Commission in a policy document labeled China a “systematic rival” to the European Union. But does Stoltenberg’s anti-Chinese stance represent the whole of Europe?
The relations between China and various NATO members are different, in terms of levels of rivalry and cooperation and also the degree of views assessing China a threat. The US and the EU differ in some cases. The EU still sees China as a potential partner in major global issues like climate change and also Iran nuclear deal. The European members of NATO now focus on the relations with Russia and the disputes on the southern fronts, in West Asia, and in North Africa.
Like the US, the EU has a huge trade exchange with China, making the Europeans faltering in siding with Washington against Beijing. Currently, China is Germany’s biggest trade partner. For the EU, trade with China comes second after the trade with the US. This could be one reason for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to say: “We still want good business ties with China.”
Additionally, China shows interest in investing where others cannot. The infrastructural projects in such European nations as Greece, Hungary, and Italy are examples of this interest.
Currently, the biggest European concern is that the EU sustains damages from the trade war between the US and China. Trump’s decision to wage a full-scale trade war with Beijing affects the Chinese and Southeast Asian markets which are the key destination of European products. The US Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently said that Washington intends to install mid-range missiles in the Asia Oceania region. If China and Russia decide to respond, their response will pose a security threat to Europe.
In addition to making the EU militarily dependent on the US, the threat has augmented the European will to increase military spending and share in NATO budget. This situation realizes Trump’s wish to cut the US NATO share and weaken the European economy.
It must be taken into account that the anti-Russian sanctions have directly affect the European economy. The US disputes with Iran, Russia, China, and Turkey pushed down the exports, setting off the alarm bells to Europe. Exports account for 78 percent of Europe’s GDP while this rate is only 38 percent in China as its population consumes a majority of the domestically-made products. This means that in the trade war, Europe receives the biggest harm.
Militarily, NATO has limitations facing China in East Asia. The main limitation comes from a lack of a sufficient number of naval facilities and vessels for a massive presence around China. This limitation drives the military bloc to only focus on presence in the North Atlantic region.
But the limitations are not just technical. They are political too. It is highly unlikely that France, one of the finite number of the naval powers and able to act in the Indian Ocean and Pacific oceans, will support the NATO role in a region where bilateral bonds are leading.
Furthermore, Hungary earlier pursued blocking the EU decisions on such cases as the South China Sea dispute. This was a big challenge for NATO in the Western Balkans writer Beijing has an influence larger than that of the EU.
Italy, on the other side, eyes joining the ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative” of China. Turkey, another NATO member, is taking a similar path as it seeks to join China-Russia-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization. All these mark the differences in viewing China by the two sides of the Atlantic.