Stoltenberg’s remarks are part of a major repositioning from NATO, which was formed after the Second World War to secure peace in Europe, against the threat of the Soviet Union.

NATO’s new 2030 vision released last month, which calls for more resources to be devoted to addressing the security challenges posed by China, were part of the alliance’s ongoing adaptation to defend its founding principles, which included democracy, the rule of law and individual liberty, Stoltenberg said.

NATO headquarters in Brussels.

NATO headquarters in Brussels. Credit:AP

“NATO’s about defending those values,” Stoltenberg told a forum hosted by Politico.

“We all realise that the global balance of power is changing in a fundamental way, the rise of China is really changing the security environment we face.

“We see that in Hong Kong, we see it in the way they deal with minorities,” he said.

Stoltenberg said China’s investment in defence, nuclear weapons, missiles and disinformation technologies meant it posed a challenge for NATO members.

“And if anything, the size of China, the military size, their economic size, their achievements in technology, all of that makes NATO even more important because no single ally, not even the biggest one – the United States – can address this alone,” he said.

On the rise: a Chinese honour guard raises the Chinese flag during the commissioning ceremony of China's Shandong aircraft carrier at a naval port in Sanya.

On the rise: a Chinese honour guard raises the Chinese flag during the commissioning ceremony of China’s Shandong aircraft carrier at a naval port in Sanya.Credit:AP

“So I strongly believe that NATO also should be a platform to help create a community of like-minded democracies and that’s the reason why we’ve been reaching out to our partners in the Asia-Pacific: Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand and we met with them actually last week at the foreign ministerial meeting.”

Stoltenberg’s comments reflect a sharp repositioning since NATO’s last leaders’ meeting in London in November a year ago, which was only the first time the alliance discussed China.

NATO’s recent independent reflection report said: “Grave risks are posed by China in some critical sectors such as telecommunications, space, cyberspace, and new technologies, as well as disinformation campaigns.”

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“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has conducted a disinformation campaign in numerous Allied states.

“It has also committed widespread intellectual property theft with implications for Allied security and prosperity, as well as cyber attacks on NATO governments and societies which have been attributed by Allies as originating inside China.”

It is in stark contrast to NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept which did not even mention China.

The alliance has faced accusations that it is no longer fit for purpose with French president Emmanuel Macron describing it as “brain dead.” It had also come under sustained attack from US President Donald Trump who argued that the United States was disproportionately funding the alliance.

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