Siding With Russia, China Says NATO Should Stop ‘Confrontational Approach’

NATO’s attempt to draw China away from Russia’s orbit has failed. The West’s warnings against siding with Moscow have not only failed on deaf ears, they have also led to an almighty backlash out of Beijing.

When Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently expressed his dismay at China’s unwillingness to condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine, he described Beijing’s posture as a “serious challenge” to the North Atlantic Alliance, which would have to “take account of how China’s growing influence and coercive policies affect our security.” Chinese diplomats immediately fired back.

On Monday, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, offered a lengthy retort to Stoltenberg, which again framed NATO as outdated and accused it of damaging the post-Cold War security order in Europe. The bloc was now attempting to destabilize China’s immediate neighborhood, too, said Zhao.

This combination of photographs shows NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian. At a regular press conference in Beijing on April 11, 2022, Zhao took aim at Stoltenberg’s remarks, after the alliance head criticized China for its unwillingness to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“For some time, the NATO head has disregarded facts and confounded black with white when making groundless accusations, smears and attacks against China,” he said without naming Stoltenberg. “He has made irresponsible comments on China’s foreign policies, touted the ‘China threat’ and even used coercion on China recently.”

“NATO should immediately stop spreading disinformation and provocative remarks targeting China, and abandon the confrontational approach of drawing ideological lines,” Zhao said. “NATO has disrupted Europe. It should stop trying to destabilize Asia and the whole world.”

To be sure, China had already aligned with Russia against NATO in January—weeks before the invasion began and prior to Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Xi Jinping in Beijing—to announce the “no-limits” partnership between their nations. For the seven weeks since the start of the war, the Chinese leadership has offered the Kremlin political cover at the highest levels of global governance, abstaining from UN resolutions and voting with Russia, even as a majority of member states condemned Moscow’s war and later suspended it from the Human Rights Council—the first permanent member of the Security Council with such a record.

Faced with questions from the press about the Bucha killings and the Kramatorsk station missile strike, China has been largely unmoved, saying just enough to back an independent investigation, while not forgetting to call attention to the “very different assertions” by Moscow and Kyiv— a stance that threatens to undermine efforts to rally international support for Ukraine and its people. In addition, China has continued to voice opposition to the West’s sweeping sanctions against Russia, punishment that Volodymyr Zelensky’s government is encouraging.

But as pressure from NATO—and the EU—mounts alongside the rising humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, China has chosen to push back with a whole-of-government campaign that seeks to challenge the West’s suspicions about its quasi-alliance with Russia. Government officials, diplomats, state news outlets and political commentators are peddling Russia’s line and creating some of their own at the same time, in a move to undercut the alliance’s unity, which Beijing sees as imperiling its own geopolitical interests in Asia.

Zhao called NATO’s security policy “obsolete.” The alliance had “reduced itself to some country’s tool for hegemony,” he said, an apparent reference to the United States.

“NATO, a military organization in the North Atlantic, has traveled to the Asia-Pacific to flex its muscles and provoke tensions in recent years. NATO has been transgressing regions and fields and clamoring for a new Cold War of bloc confrontation. This gives ample reason for high vigilance and firm opposition from the international community,” said the spokesperson, who argued China’s rise was an opportunity for the world rather than a threat.

Ukraine Mourns Losses From Russian Invasion
Maria Korechko, right, mourns the burial of her son, Ukrainian soldier Andriy Zagornyakon, in Kamianka-Buzka, Ukraine, on April 10, 2022. Since Russia’s February 24 attack began, estimated military casualties for both sides have varied widely.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The recent sentiments of the outward-facing Foreign Ministry have given China’s state-affiliated media a guideline by which to frame renewed criticisms of the West. Leading the narratives that also appear in coverage by the country’s broadcasters and largest newspapers, the official Xinhua News Agency accused NATO of undermining peace talks between Ukraine and Russia while also prolonging the war with its weapons shipments.

“Following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine military conflict, NATO countries hurriedly joined Washington to obstruct a political settlement, fan the flames and magnify regional conflict, provide Ukraine with money and weapons, and pummel Russia with sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions,” an April 10 Xinhua editorial said, apparently suggesting that a swift Ukrainian collapse and territorial concessions to Putin were more favorable outcomes than a protracted European war that would also impact the Chinese economy.

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