The United States joined its NATO allies on Wednesday to issue a strong rebuke to “malicious hybrid and cyber” threats from the People’s Republic of China, warning the “no-limits” partnership between China and Russia is undercutting a rules-based international order.
In Beijing, Chinese officials pushed back and asked the Atlantic alliance to stop “stoking political confrontation or seeking to start a new Cold War.”
On Wednesday in Madrid, where NATO leaders are meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “there are aspects increasingly where we [the U.S. and NATO] have to contest what China is doing. And one of the things that it’s doing is seeking to undermine the rules-based international order.”
The chief U.S. diplomat said Washington is not looking for a conflict with Beijing even as the U.S. and NATO confront the increasing challenges imposed by China, including cybersecurity.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused China of “spreading Russian lies and disinformation” at a press conference in Madrid, where the Atlantic alliance unveiled its “Strategic Concept” that features China for the first time.
“This region, North America and Europe, faces global threats and challenges — that’s cyber, that’s terrorism, but also the security consequences of China, because that has effects on us,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept warned that “cyberspace is contested at all times” with malign actors seeking to degrade the Atlantic alliance’s critical infrastructure, extract intelligence, steal intellectual property and impede the alliance’s military activities.
“The People’s Republic of China’s stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values. … The PRC seeks to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains. … It strives to subvert the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains,” said NATO in the organization’s most important working document.
U.S. officials have questioned China’s claim of neutrality since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, accusing Beijing of using its state-controlled information toolbox to amplify Russian false claims about the war.
Chinese officials say they are making “independent assessments based on the historical context” as the military conflict in Ukraine enters its fifth month.
Ties to Ukraine, support for Russia
China maintains a strategic partnership with Ukraine and says Beijing respects Kyiv’s territorial and sovereign integrity. But China also supports Russia’s supposed security concerns and has been opposing Western sanctions against Moscow.
Personal rapport between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin has been on display as Beijing repeatedly asserts rhetorical support of Moscow.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned NATO to stay out of the Asia-Pacific region.
“Some NATO member states keep sending aircraft and warships to carry out military exercises in China’s nearby waters, creating tensions and fanning up disputes,” said Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry. Zhao said the Atlantic alliance “should discard the Cold War mentality and zero-sum game mindset and stop making enemies.”