China: A nemesis that NATO wouldn’t want

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China: A nemesis that NATO wouldn’t want

Monday, 20 December 2021 | Nishtha KAUSHIKI

China: A nemesis that NATO wouldn’t want

While the US and Britain have decided to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, the EU has refrained from taking a collective stand on the issue

The mention of China as a potential challenger to NATO first emerged in one of its documents in 2019, and by 2020-21, it has become its "systemic rival". From a Euro-Atlantic perspective, Russia is a direct military threat that does not shy away from a head-on clash. Its primary focus is on its immediate strategic backyard- Eastern Europe and Central Asia. On the other hand, China has violent tendencies towards its neighbours and politically intimidates the countries of other regions by actively using its economic and political clout. Further, it has forged strategic partnerships with authoritarian countries, attempts to change the existing security architectures by challenging the freedom of navigation of commercial ships by buying or financing strategic assets worldwide. Thus, it has a global strategic agenda and is far more dangerous than Russia for the EU and NATO.

There has been an upward trend of trade between the EU and China. During the first nine months of 2020, the bilateral trade between the two was Euro 425.5 billion. Simultaneously, the EU-US trade saw a downward trend of -11.4 percent for imports and -10 percent for exports. With regard to the Chinese BRI, in 2018, China marked its strategic presence in North-Western Europe with the takeover of Zeebrugge terminal in Belgium and Greece's Piraeus seaport,followed by crucial infrastructural development projects in Spain, Italy and Greece. Germany's Duisburg inland port should not be missed either. The EU and NATO essentially see the 17+1 format as a leapfrog approach by Beijing that threatens the region's security.

In 2019, two significant developments took place. First, at the EU-China summit in April 2019, a few states opposed a standard EU stand against China, given its strategic influence. Second, Italy was the first G7 country to join the BRI. Thus, the cracks in the solidarity of the EU began to appear. In the investments sector, the regulatory preferences for the 5G rollout have been chiefly guided by the US. The EU security concerns have vetted the domestic legal guidelines of individual states, and hence, all efforts have been made to sideline Huawei, which is primarily seen as a "Trojan Horse". As China aims to become a world leader in Artificial Intelligence by 2030, the penetration of Huawei and other such critical technologies such as biotechnology and robotics, the propaganda warfare through disinformation campaigns challenges both Europe and the US. The additional challenge 'democratic backsliding' due to the Chinese influence over the fragile partners of the EU and the 'potential members' can also not be missed. In light of this, the 2021 summit communiqué acknowledged the evolving nature of warfare involving the malicious use of AI apart from simultaneous attacks with hypersonic missiles. The threat has thus become three-fold -- a fully modernised conventional attack with the potential of a supplemented nuclear attack apart from the emerging contours of hybrid warfare and the questions of the continuance of supply chains. In a nutshell, the Chinese policies of geostrategic and geo-economic penetration apart from its Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) strategy constitute the core of its "systemic challenge".

During the Cold War, it was asserted that the security of Western Europe depended upon the containment of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, with the 'unipolar moment' gradually coming to an end with the US overstretch with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the incorporation of Russia in the Atlantic partnership would probably have allowed NATO to geographically and politically cross the barriers of Eurasia. Consequently, today from "spoiler states", Russia and China have rapidly transformed themselves into "revisionist states", and the role of China is a much profound one. With Joint exercises of both the countries in the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea and Beijing's recent outreach to Equatorial Guinea to establish its first permanent military mission in the Atlantic, the Euro Atlantic insecurities will increase all the more.

Had the Sino-Russo strategic convergences been nipped in the bud itself by strategic re-evaluation and the inclusion of Russia in NATO, the story of geopolitics perhaps could have been fundamentally different, both for the EU and as for South Asia. Acceptance of Russia as an "equal" would have probably done away with the heartburns that Moscow has right now. The inability to accept that hybrid warfare (4th and 5th generation) would necessitate politically expanding the horizons of deterrence against a new rising power (China) has done more harm than good to NATO. The visionary approach of including Russia in NATO was discouraged when Russia's request to join the organisation was turned down by the U.S. not once but thrice, leading to the creation of new political faultlines. It also led to strengthening the Sino-Russo alliance apart from leaving a geopolitical vacuum in which China and Russia could attempt to downplay the EU and NATO. Today, the takeover or annexation of the Crimea, the Ukrainian crisis, the refugee dispute between Poland and Belarus, and the inclusion of the EU countries in the BRI Corridor have become the larger geopolitical testers of a 'United' EU and NATO, apart from the US sphere of influence.

There is still a lack of political cohesion on the methodologies to tackle China in this direction. While the US and Britain have decided to boycott Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, the EU, on the other hand, has refrained from taking a collective stand on the issue. Given the increasingly intertwined stakes that the Union has with China, it is hesitant to take a joint stand fearing its retaliatory "economic coercion". France's position is contrary to the US, which is well grasped in the backdrop of the formation of the AUKUS and the severed deal between Canberra and Paris. Such emerging diverging approaches within the EU that China would possibly try to use in its favour to increase its strategic foothold, thereby weakening the Atlantic alliance.

Early this year, G7 partners announced the 'Build Back Better World Initiative' (B3W), followed by the 'Global Gateway' initiative that aims to mobilise Euro 300 billion between 2021 and 2027. As one can see, the developments are similar to the 'Greek-Turkish Aid Bill' — the US initial response to contain Communist expansion. However, in the contemporary scenario, additions such as hybrid warfare, hostile economic takeovers, and dual-use ports have ushered in new dimensions of geopolitics. A full-blown 'New Cold War'is in place.

China and Russia would probably seek to militarily distract the EU and the US with small but essential 'hotspots' such as Taiwan and Ukraine. The risks of escalation and misjudgement have increased the chances of open hostilities all the more, but, given the constraints of economic dependencies, especially the questions of the continuance of supply chain routes, one can be still doubtful of the NATO response. Nevertheless, territorial nibbling would also not be taken lightly by NATO. The vicious circle thus seems to continue with more of trade wars, sanctions, and hostile takeovers, thereby creating sharp polarisations throughout the globe and regional and other organisations such as the EU and NATO.

(The writer is an Assistant Professor at Central University of Punjab, Bathinda. The views expressed are personal.)


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