Raisina Dialogue: NATO Secy Gen flags China coercion of neighbours, hampering freedom of navigation

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New Delhi, Apr 13 (PTI) NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday flagged China's assertive moves such as coercing neighbours in the region and hampering freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, while asserting that the transatlantic military alliance is a key platform to forge convergence on responding to the security implications of a rising China.

In his virtual address at the Raisina Dialogue, Stoltenberg also said India is a 'pivotal player' in the Indo-Pacific region and asserted there is a huge potential for NATO to work with the country in different ways without being part of an integrated military cooperation.

'India is a pivotal player in the Indo-Pacific region. It is also an important and active international actor. You are one of the largest troop contributors to United Nations peacekeeping missions. Currently, a member of the UN Security Council. And you will hold the G20 presidency in 2023,' he said, adding that India truly matters on the global scene.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance between 30 European and North American countries.

Noting that the rise of China is a defining global issue which has implications for all, Stoltenberg said there are opportunities that come with China's rise.

China has lifted millions out of poverty, brought economic growth and prosperity, and it is an important trade and investment partner to many NATO countries, he noted.

China will soon have the biggest economy in the world, it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and therefore it is 'instrumental in dealing with issues of our time' -- from global governance to international trade and climate change, he said.

'That is why at NATO, we engage with China. In the past, we have cooperated in fighting piracy off the coast of Somalia. And there are areas where China can play a constructive role to our mutual benefit. From peace and stability in Afghanistan, to negotiating arms control arrangements,' Stoltenberg said.

'But we must be clear-headed about the challenges that come with China's rise,' he added.

China is matching its military power to its economic power, it has tripled its military expenditure over the last decade, now has the world's second largest defence budget, and it continues to invest massively in military modernisation, he said.

'At the same time, China does not share our values. It persecutes ethnic and religious minorities, such as the Uighurs, suppresses human rights in Hong Kong and it is using new and advanced technology to monitor and control its own people, creating state surveillance without precedent,' the NATO Secretary General said.

'We have also seen more assertive moves by Beijing, to challenge the rules-based international order. It is openly threatening Taiwan, coercing neighbours in the region and hampering freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,' he said.

Asserting that China's rise has 'real implications on our security', Stoltenberg said NATO is, and will remain, a regional alliance for Europe and North America.

'But China is coming closer to us. And this requires our collective attention and action,' he said.

NATO is a key platform to forge convergence on responding to the security implications of a rising China, Stoltenberg said.

'This is one of the reasons why we are addressing how to further strengthen the resilience of our societies and our infrastructure. So that we can reduce vulnerabilities stemming from foreign ownership, coercion or manipulation,' he said.

'And we want to engage even more closely with our friends and partners around the world. Because that is the best way to protect the rules-based international order, secure our societies and ring-fence our democracies,' he asserted.

Stoltenberg's remarks come in the wake of China's increasing military muscle flexing in the South China Sea and the Sino-India border row in eastern Ladakh.

Stoltenberg said the Indo-Pacific is becoming more and more important and NATO sees the value of strengthening its partnership and cooperation with countries in the region.

'We already have formalized strong partnerships with like-minded democracies in the region, including South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

'But we also strongly believe that we can work more closely with countries like India, a like-minded democracy, sharing the same values and standing up for the rules based order,' Stoltenberg said.

Refusing to compare the rise of China with the Soviet Union in the Cold War period, Stoltenberg said, 'We don't regard China as an adversary and we also see real opportunities in the rise of China'.

But then there is a need to combine that understanding with the fact that 'we see a more assertive China, violating international or undermining the rules-based order, threatening neighbours, and, of course, China is a country that doesn't share our values', he said.

Organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a think-tank, in partnership with the MEA, Raisina Dialogue is India's premier conference on geopolitics and geo-economics. PTI ASK TIR TIR