NATO confronted China’s military ambitions for the first time, saying Beijing presents “systemic challenges” for the transatlantic security alliance.
The communique marks a diplomatic victory for US President Joe Biden, who had urged the 30-member strong alliance to stand up to China’s burgeoning military, political and economic might.
“China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security,” NATO’s 79-point communique said.
It accused Beijing of “rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal” and being “opaque in implementing its military modernisation”, as well as highlighting China’s military cooperation with Russia in exercises in the Euro-Atlantic region as a concern.
“We call on China to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system, including in the space, cyber, and maritime domains, in keeping with its role as a major power,” the communique said.
Addressing reporters NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said there was a “strong convergence of views among allies” regarding the challenges posed by Beijing’s behaviour.
“Leaders agreed that we need to address such challenges as an alliance and that we need to engage with China to defend our security interests,” he said.
Biden said the alliance’s mutual defence pact was a “sacred obligation” for the US a marked shift in tone from his predecessor Donald Trump, who had threatened to withdraw from the alliance and accused Europeans of contributing too little to their own defence.
“I want all Europe to know that the United States is there,” said Biden. “NATO is critically important to us.”
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended her last summit of the alliance before she steps down in September, described Biden’s arrival as the opening of a new chapter. She also said it was important to deal with China as a potential threat.
“If you look at the cyber threats and the hybrid threats, if you look at the cooperation between Russia and China, you cannot simply ignore China,” Merkel told reporters.
“But one must not overrate it, either – we need to find the right balance.”
Biden said both Russia and China were not acting “in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped”.