As we know well from the experience of Russia, the countries of Eastern Europe have coped successfully with torpedoing relations between Russia and the West. It is possible that they will do even more damage to the US relationship with China, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has recently called for Russia and China to be viewed as a single challenge to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. NATO is now working on a new concept, which is expected to be adopted by the end of the next summit. So, China will be declared one of the key threats. NATO’s enthusiasm for reorienting its interest toward East Asia is difficult to understand, much less to share.
Most NATO countries have different perceptions of threats. Countries in the east of the bloc fear Russia, in the south they fear migration from Africa, Greece has a frozen conflict with Turkey, and Britain is in conflict with Ireland over fishing rights in the region. None of these countries have a vital interest in the confrontation with China for which they would be ready to fight. A specific exception is Lithuania, which recently sharply curtailed its relations with Beijing and is ready to open an embassy in Taiwan.
How will Article 5 of the Charter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation work in the fight for Taiwan’s semiconductors? The paradox of such a question pushes some NATO countries to perceive the prioritisation of China as an issue “below Article 5”. That is, these countries believe that the article is not applicable in the East Asian theatre. However, in this case, there is an even greater erosion of the meaning of NATO and its operational effectiveness. NATO might as well extend its concern to other parts of the Western Hemisphere, such as Peru, Colombia or Argentina. The main problem is that this concern should be more compelling than the inglorious military campaign in Afghanistan.
The European NATO countries are pushing the United States to confront China. However, the American understanding of security problems in East Asia is also deeply mistaken. For decades, the United States has pursued a strategy of engaging China, seeking to manage its rise and development. When the Americans became convinced that this strategy didn’t work, the United States moved on to contain China, prevent its technological development, cooperate with the EU countries, and even more so prevent it from taking over Taiwan, a key semiconductor manufacturer.
What’s next? American analysts have not ruled out new military pressure. However, there are also many questions: what would a military victory over China look like? Wouldn’t the United States and its allies suffer more from this conflict than they could make up for by securing a precarious victory? Given these circumstances, China looks more like a passive observer than an active participant in the confrontation.
For its part, Beijing is making an offer in relations with the United States, which Washington has refused to hear out. China offers the United States the principles of relations that have been tested in a bilateral format with Russia: stability, predictability, equality, non-interference in internal affairs, and respect for each other’s interests. China is calling this a new type of relationship; one which doesn’t implicitly target third countries. Russia and China made joint declarations in the early 2000s where they proclaimed the primacy of such relations. In addition to accepting these principles, Beijing and Moscow agreed to demilitarise their shared border to a sufficient extent, as well as to provide mutual security guarantees to small countries located between them. Taken together, these circumstances made it possible to elevate Russian-Chinese relations to an unprecedented level of trust and strategic partnership.
For its part, Russia has also offered the West the opportunity to develop relations based on these principles. However, these proposals remain consistently unanswered. The chances that the Chinese proposals will be heard by the US or the West are also slim. This means that we will observe a gradual pulling of the European allies of the United States first into an ambivalent confrontation, which will inevitably begin to escalate as the frequency of incidents. Activists like Lithuania and Poland may raise the question of such a degree of aggravation of Sino-European relations, for which the countries of Western Europe may not be at all ready. However, as we know well from the experience of Russia, the countries of Eastern Europe have coped successfully with torpedoing relations between Russia and the West. It is possible that they will do even more damage to the US relationship with China.