NATO senior officials warn of China’s “shocking” military advances

NATO’s oldest military official highlighted the “shocking” pace of China’s military modernization and warned of its growing diplomatic presence overseas as the alliance prepares to take a stand. more assertive position towards Beijing.

Air Marshal Marshal Sir Stuart Peach’s comments highlight the wide range of security challenges posed by China as alliance members struggle to move beyond a diagnosis of the threat to a agreed action plan.

“It’s pretty shocking how fast China has built ships, how much China has modernized its air force, how much it has invested in cybernetics and other forms of information management, even less facial recognition,” said Peach – who resigned Friday after three years as head of the NATO military committee – in an interview with the Financial Times before his departure.

“I think it’s very important to look at this. What do you do if you are a leader in China with a great modernized powerful force? Employees, move it around, ”he said, adding that there is“ further work needed ”among the 30 NATO member states to decide what China’s military ambitions mean for the alliance.

NATO leaders last week warned for the first time that China has posed “systemic challenges” to the rules-based international order, perpetrating disinformation, cooperating with Russia and expanding its nuclear arsenal.

But critics say the alliance has not yet developed a detailed strategy for China, in part because it is divided internally and has no tools to address concerns such as China’s participation in European strategic infrastructure.

Peach pointed out how Beijing had expanded its diplomatic reach through advanced posts such as its “huge” embassy in Brussels, which is also the EU’s main headquarters, where NATO headquarters are.

“You now have a large embassy footprint now with very large defense sections, often populated by general officers. And then you just observe, as I have observed after almost 50 years of service, what it serves for?” He asked.

Brussels has become a center of concern in terms of Chinese espionage activities and influence operations. Last year, the Belgian security agency accused Fraser Cameron, a Brussels thinker who had previously worked for the European Commission and the British intelligence agency MI6, of participating in a suspected Chinese-influenced buying operation .

Cameron denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the allegations as “ridiculous”. Since then Belgium has refused to comment further on the case and has not brought any charges in relation to it.

China’s mission in the EU said in a statement that military exchanges and cooperation with other countries were an “important part of China’s general diplomacy” and that Beijing was “actively developing constructive military relations with other countries.” .

Chief Marshal Stuart Peach noted that Beijing has expanded its diplomatic reach through outposts such as its “huge” embassy in Brussels © PA

Peach, who was first head of defense personnel for the British armed forces before being nominated to NATO, said he had noted that Beijing’s joint operations with Moscow would evolve from being “relatively minor” to involving. ” major exercises and training opportunities ”in recent years. But he dismissed any suggestion that the two countries were heading towards a strategic partnership.

The air marshal’s chief understood that, on the contrary, when the Arctic ice melts it opens a northern sea route – which will accelerate China’s sea passage to Europe and open access to the unused energy and mineral supply – competition could be unleashed between the two powers. Moscow is already opening new military zones in the Arctic, while China has declared itself a “nation close to the Arctic.”

“I can’t see the long-term harmony between China and Russia in the Arctic,” Peach said.

But the outgoing leader, who has been tasked with maintaining NATO’s diplomatic channel with Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, was less ready for his discussions.

“I have known General Gerasimov for many years. . . and our relationship is entirely professional, “Peach said.” The topics we discuss are designed to keep everyone safe. “

As he prepares to return to London, the air marshal has raised the prospect that NATO may need to seek funding sources beyond its goal that members commit to spending 2 per cent of its gross national product in defense.

At this month’s summit, the Allies agreed to create a 1 billion-euro fund invests in new military technologies, from artificial intelligence to robotics. But, he suggested, he could do more. “If I’m right about the convention authority that this alliance confers, then that’s exactly where we need to think about the future,” Peach said.

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