Nato chief’s criticism of China showed ideological prejudice, Beijing says

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Beijing has accused Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of smearing and attacking China after the transatlantic alliance chief warned of challenges posed by China to security and democracy.

In a statement published on its website on Friday, the Chinese embassy in Denmark said remarks by Stoltenberg the previous day at inter-parliamentary cooperation forum the Nordic Council were “making something out of nothing”.

The statement said Stoltenberg had “played up the so-called ‘China threat’”.

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“His speech was imbued with Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice, and went against the historical trend of peace, development and cooperation,” it said.

It argued that China’s military investment was necessary to safeguard its own national security interest.

“No country will be threatened by China’s national defence capability as long as it does not intend to threaten or undermine China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity,” it said.

The statement was released hours after Stoltenberg addressed Nordic Council representatives from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Aland. He called on members of Nato, the world’s largest military alliance, to show solidarity in the face of challenges from Russia, China and terrorism.

“China will soon have the world’s largest economy,” Stoltenberg said, according to a transcript on Nato’s website. “It already has the world’s largest navy, and the world’s second-largest defence budget. And it is investing heavily in new, long-range nuclear weapons.”

Although China was not an “adversary”, its growing power had posed challenges to Nato allies in areas such as the Arctic, Africa and cyberspace, Stoltenberg said.

“A great power that oppresses, monitors and controls its own people,” he said. “Suppresses democracy and human rights. And persecutes ethnic and religious minorities. China is openly threatening Taiwan, and hampering freedom of navigation, as we have seen in the South China Sea.”

Stoltenberg recalled his second term as Norwegian prime minister, during which relations with China dropped to their lowest point after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to the imprisoned democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo, who later died in custody in China in 2017.

The Norwegian government argued at that time that it had no influence over the committee, but Beijing was furious and it was not until 2016 that the two sides agreed to normalise ties, with Norway saying in a joint statement that it was “fully conscious of the position and concerns of the Chinese side” over Liu receiving the prize.

“China responded immediately,” Stoltenberg said of Liu’s award. “It stopped all political contact, boycotted Norwegian exports and made it clear that it would do everything to oppose Norway. Denmark had a similar experience when the Dalai Lama was invited here for a visit. Also in Sweden, we have recently seen how the Chinese embassy has threatened journalists who were writing negatively about China.”

On Thursday, Stoltenberg also warned against Beijing’s critical infrastructure investment in Nordic countries and urged democratic nations to stand together to defend democracy and freedom, which he said were “the values we believe in – and which Nato is built on”.

Established after World War II to provide collective security against the Soviet Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is a political and military alliance between 28 European and two North American countries.

Nato has long focused on countering Russia and later fighting terrorism, but it has increasingly voiced concerns over China’s growing military capability as a geopolitical rivalry between China and the United States has escalated in recent years.

Its member states, such as the US, France, Germany and the UK, have boosted their presence in the Indo-Pacific region in recent months as the US focuses on consolidating ties with allies under President Joe Biden.

In a telephone call with Stoltenberg in September, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the transatlantic alliance should stay within “its original geographic position” rather than stepping into the Asia-Pacific.

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