The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit held in Madrid last June reinforced Russia’s historical position as the bloc’s main adversary, but it also marked other important shifts in global geopolitics. Although all eyes were on the war in Ukraine and even Turkey’s green light for Finland and Sweden admittance applications, leaders in the summit shed light on what they called a “systemic challenge”: China.
NATO’s Strategic Concept Document recognized China as one of its strategic priorities, listing multidimensional areas of concern, but it did not classify the country as an explicit enemy. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is still all over the news and one can conclude that China is comfortable being relegated to the back of the front pages. But a growing Asia focus did not come out of nowhere for NATO.
After the Winter Olympics, Beijing went through serious domestic challenges tied to its ‘dynamic zero COVID’ policy, namely widespread lockdowns and economic slowdown, raising speculation of a possible crisis within the Chinese Communist Party. Tensions between China and several Asian countries also escalated, including traditional allies of the United States. The moment South Korea and Japan were invited to attend the NATO summit in June, China immediately came forward with an expected message of repudiation, arguing that the US-led NATO alliance wants to forcefully drag European tensions into Asia.
The truth is that tensions were already in Asia long before they reappeared in Europe. The struggle for influence in the Indo-Pacific led to the creation of QUAD (naval-military alliance between India, USA, Australia and Japan) and AUKUS (naval-military alliance between Australia, United Kingdom and United States). In addition, China’s expanding economic, political, and military footprint among several islands in the Pacific catalyzed diplomatic battles with Australia, the US, and New Zealand.
These Chinese developments in the Pacific islands, precisely Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and Kiribati, inevitably caused NATO to consider a rapid accession for Australia and New Zealand into the bloc. These two countries, in addition to South Korea, Japan and the other 30 members of the North Atlantic Alliance, jointly expressed that “China is not an enemy, but Beijing’s actions reflect an anxiety for other countries of the alliance.”
NATO might be facing setbacks to end the war in Ukraine, but the alliance proved to be more united than ever. After all, just a few years ago, former President Donald Trump said on several occasions that NATO was good for nothing. Considering the revitalization that took place after the Russian invasion, nothing is more natural than expanding the focus to China.
Becoming a NATO focus is a serious strategic problem for China. Amid the existing tensions against the US and Australia, becoming the center of planning and containment strategies for thirty NATO members is a tactical headache that Beijing could certainly do without.
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