BRUSSELS -- NATO members are debating how best to express concern over possible Chinese cooperation with Russia in a joint statement after an extraordinary summit Thursday, amid fears that military and financial support from Beijing could reinvigorate Moscow's offensive in Ukraine.
A European diplomat with direct knowledge of the draft process said that "the joint communique will mention concerns about China's potential military support to Russia." Talks are ongoing about whether it will include language regarding consequences for any such actions, the diplomat said.
If Beijing intends to cooperate with Moscow, "we need to send a very clear, polite message to China that it's a mistake" and that it would "harm our relationship," Deividas Matulionis, Lithuania's permanent representative to NATO, told Nikkei on Monday. “It’s realistic that there will be some coverage in the [NATO leaders joint] statement of that,” he added.
"There is no disagreement" within the bloc on this issue, "because an aggressor is an aggressor, and who supports an aggressor then becomes an accomplice of the aggressor," Matulionis said.
The alliance is expected to reaffirm its unified stance against Russia over the invasion and set out additional support for Ukraine. The leaders of the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany and Italy held a call Monday ahead of the meeting, confirming plans to continue providing security assistance to Kyiv.
Washington in particular has been alarmed by the prospect of Beijing giving Moscow military support and is looking to pressure China to keep its distance.
In a video call Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that Beijing would face consequences should it choose to help Moscow, hinting at the possibility of sanctions, but Xi offered no commitments.
The call followed news that the Biden administration learned that China had signaled willingness to provide military assistance to Russia at Moscow's request. Washington informed allies about this through diplomatic cables, likely in a bid to check Beijing while also laying a foundation for closer cooperation between the U.S. and Europe.
A joint communique issued after last June's regular NATO summit suggested that the bloc considers China a long-term rival, saying that its "stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security."
Beijing's deepening partnership with Russia against the backdrop of the Ukraine invasion may make it a short-term security threat as well.
If Washington does take action against Beijing, broad cooperation will be key to success. But this could prove tougher to achieve than with the Russia sanctions, as many European and Asian countries have close economic ties with China.
The NATO alliance was formed in 1949 to counter the threat of the then-Soviet Union. Now, not only is its ability to meet the threat of Russia being tested, but its ability to counter China is being tested as well.