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Nato leaders voice concern about threat China poses to world order for first time


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China is not an adversary but it does represent serious challenges, Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, said on Wednesday, as the alliance agreed for the first time to include threats posed by Beijing into a blueprint guiding its future strategy.

While Russia’s war against Ukraine has dominated discussions at the Nato summit, China earned a place among the western alliance’s most worrying security concerns.

“We now face an era of strategic competition … China is substantially building up its forces, including in nuclear weapons, bullying its neighbours, including Taiwan,” Stoltenberg said. “China is not our adversary but we must be clear-eyed about the serious challenges it represents.”

The alliance’s last blueprint – or strategic concept – was agreed to in 2010 and did not mention China. The new one states that China’s policies challenge Nato’s interests, security and values, though Russia remains the most significant and direct threat to security.

“The PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target allies and harm alliance security,” the strategic concept reads, noting a deepening partnership with Russia in their shared attempts to “subvert the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains”.

Nato warned that the Chinese government was “rapidly expanding” its nuclear capability without increasing transparency or engaging in good faith in arms control, and using economic leverage to “create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence”.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken accused Beijing of undermining the rules-based order “that we believe in, that we helped build”. “If China’s challenging it in one way or another, we will stand up to that,” he said.

The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, attending his first Nato summit in Madrid, warned that the strengthening of relations between Beijing and Moscow posed a risk to all democratic nations.

“Just as Russia seeks to recreate a Russian or Soviet empire, the Chinese government is seeking friends, whether it be … through economic support to build up alliances to undermine what has historically been the western alliance in places like the Indo-Pacific,” he told the summit on Wednesday.

Albanese said Australia had been subjected to “economic coercion” from China, and urged democratic leaders to pursue trade diversification.

Australia, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand were invited to the Madrid summit to add a greater focus on the Indo-Pacific region. Albanese’s objective was to elevate the region as a second theatre of strategic competition with Nato members preoccupied with Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Addressing her first Nato summit, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern warned of a “more assertive” China but urged more diplomatic engagement. New Zealand has toughened its tone recently amid Beijing’s growing presence in the South Pacific, in part due to the signing of a security pact between China and Solomon Islands.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian responded by saying Nato should stop “trying to launch a new cold war”.

“Stop trying to mess up Asia and the world after messing up Europe,” he said. “What they should do is give up their cold war mindset, zero-sum games and stop doing things that create enemies.”

Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, said the invasion of Ukraine had shaken the foundation of the rules-based order. “The security of Europe and the security of the Indo-Pacific cannot be decoupled,” he said in opening remarks.

En route to the summit, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the Russian invasion of Ukraine had shown the need for extra vigilance and caution over potential Chinese action against Taiwan.

“I just think it’s very important that countries around the world should not be able to read across from events in Europe and draw the conclusion that the world will simply stand idly by if boundaries are changed by force,” he said. “That’s one of the most important lessons that we pick up from Ukraine.”

UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, was more explicit, calling for faster action to help Taiwan with defensive weapons, a key requirement for Ukraine since the invasion.

“There’s always a tendency – and we’ve seen this prior to the Ukraine war – there’s always a tendency of wishful thinking, to hope that more bad things won’t happen and to wait until it’s too late,” Truss told the UK’s foreign affairs committee.

“We should have done things earlier, we should have been supplying the defensive weapons into Ukraine earlier. We need to learn that lesson for Taiwan. Every piece of equipment we have sent takes months of training, so the sooner we do it, the better.”

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