Shortly after Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up talks with the Chinese, he attended North Atlantic Council (NAC) ministerial-level meetings at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. As Robin Emmott from Reuters reports on the meetings, Blinken took a much different tone with America’s NATO allies. The secretary of state said, “The United States won’t force allies into an ‘us-or-them’ choice with China.” Therein lies the real problem. Left unchecked as China is now, NATO will have to choose.
Secretary Blinken made clear that he was in Brussels to get buy-in from NATO allies to join in a united front against China’s hegemonic ambitions. Blinken first built the case that China was a problem not just for the U.S. but also for all U.S. friends and allies. Following one of the meetings, Blinken explained, “There’s no question that China’s coercive behavior threatens our collective security and prosperity …” Additionally, Blinken “accused Beijing of undermining the international trading order that the United States and its allies built after World War Two.”
To rally the NATO partners, Blinken laid out the challenge NATO faces with China. As Emmott reports, the secretary said,
“’They are actively working to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share,’ Blinken said of China, standing by the 30 flags of the NATO alliance. ‘If we work together to make real our positive vision for the international order … we’re confident that we can outcompete China on any playing field,’ he said.”
Blinken went on to emphasize that working together was a NATO core value. “Whether it is tackling some of the new challenges like climate or the cyber realm, the rise of autocratic states and the challenges that they pose,” he said, “we have a profound interest in doing it together, doing it collectively, relying on collective security, and that’s what NATO is all about.”
As compelling as Secretary Blinken may have been, getting buy-in from all European allies may be an uphill slog. In the Reuters account of the meeting, France and Germany expressed their need for what they call “strategic balance” in their relationship with the U.S. and China. Spain and the Netherlands expressed the same sentiment, only somewhat more curiously, saying they wanted to keep the European trading block open while “seeking strategic autonomy.” What strategic autonomy is was left unexplained. A good guess would be that Spain and the Netherlands do not want to be tied to the U.S. geopolitical issues with China when trade with China is critical for the two countries.
To that point, before Blinken’s remarks in Brussels, the Chinese Foreign Ministry tweeted, “The U.S., UK., and Canada together account for only 5.7% of the world’s population. Even if EU is added, that will be about 11%. They cannot represent the international community.” But Secretary Blinken responded by telling reporters that when the U.S. is aligned and working with European partners, allies and friends, the countries represent “40, 50 or 60% of world GDP. That’s a lot harder for Beijing to ignore.”
Another fact that China cannot ignore is that NATO, the E.U., and the United States are aligned in their criticism of China’s human rights violations. On March 22, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) tells us in its article, “’We’re in it together,’ Blinken tells NATO after a flurry of China Sanctions,” that Britain, Canada, the E.U. and the United States teamed up to slap sanctions on Chinese officials over suspected human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Xinjiang is the province in China where Muslim Chinese Uyghurs live. As Liberty Nation’s Jeff Charles explained, there has been wide condemnation of the Beijing government for brutalizing the Uyghur community.
Holding to its tit-for-tat international diplomacy model, SCMP goes on to explain:
“China reacted swiftly to European sanctions, banning 10 European individuals and four entities and associated individuals from entering China, including Hong Kong and Macau. Among those sanctioned was the EU Council’s Political and Security Committee, comprising all 27 member states’ ambassadors to Brussels, their families, and staff.”
The question becomes how long the human rights topic will be sufficient to cement a relationship among the NATO, EU, and United States. Europe and particularly Germany are tied so economically tight with China; there is significant financial pressure to play nice with the CCP. Germany alone exports approximately €198B and imports €362B, which is not trivial.
However, the good news is that the U.S. is still the highest by percentage buyer of E.U. export goods. The bad news is that the E.U. imports more from China. The United States’ economic leverage to convince NATO and E.U. countries to see things its way when it comes to China may no longer be available. The Biden team has its work cut out for it, and working to get allies on board will be crucial.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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