China’s defence minister on Europe mission as US tries to rally Nato

Liu Zhen
·3-min read

Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe defended Beijing’s Xinjiang policies as he landed in Europe for a weeklong trip as the US tries to rally countries on the continent to its side.

In a meeting with Hungarian President Janos Ader on Wednesday, Wei pushed back against European Union sanctions imposed on Monday over alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang.

The Chinese defence ministry said Wei “praises Hungary for showing support and speaking for China on issues relating to China’s core concerns, including Xinjiang”.

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All 27 EU governments, including Hungary, agreed to the punitive measures. But Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called them “harmful” and “pointless”.

Hungary is the first stop in Wei’s trip, which will also take him to Greece, North Macedonia and Serbia, according to the defence ministry.

The ministry said the trip was to “further promote the traditional friendship and practical cooperation with the defence departments and armies of these countries, and push forward a healthy and stable development of military-to-military relations”.

Serbia is the only one of the four countries that is not a member of the US-led Nato military alliance, and Wei’s trip comes as the United States tries to renew the transatlantic relationship, stressing the common threat from Beijing.

Addressing Nato foreign ministers in Brussels earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the US’ European allies to work together and help counter the threat from an “aggressive and coercive” China.

“There’s no question that China’s coercive behaviour threatens our collective security and prosperity and that it is actively working to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share,” Blinken said.

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin made a similar call last month when he told Nato defence ministers that China was a challenge to transatlantic security, and the allies should address it together.

In addition, Nato members including Britain, France and Germany have agreed to send warships to patrol the South China Sea, joining the US effort to challenge China’s claim to the disputed waters.

Tensions between Beijing and Brussels ratcheted up on Monday after the EU sanctioned Chinese officials and entities over alleged human rights abuses. China responded by imposing its own sanctions.

Military commentator Song Zhongping said Wei’s trip was meant to send a message that China’s military development and growing influence globally was not a threat to Nato.

“There are different voices and diverse views within Nato, and there is not necessarily a consensus on containing and confronting China,” he said, noting that Wei’s destinations traditionally had relatively a good relationship with China.

“So through strengthening military diplomacy, it would be less easy for Nato to form a joint force against China.”

Amid US attempts to rebuild the alliance with Europe, China is also seeking to gain more partners. On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in the southern Chinese city of Guilin and discussed the “newly revived Nato alliance”.

Wu Xinbo, director of Fudan University’s Centre for American Studies, said Lavrov’s visit was a result of the increased pressure from the US.

“It is indeed a response to the US pressure that China and Russia are moving closer,” he said.

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