NATO's new strategic concept on China: views from Prof. Zheng Yongnian
“For China, the key is not to fall into the trap set by the United States.”
The 2022 Summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) wrapped up in Madrid, Spain on Thursday. In NATO's new strategic concept – a key document that sets the alliance’s military and security strategy for the next 10 years, China has been identified for the first time as a “systemic challenge to Euro-Atlantic security”.
China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday expressed serious concern and firm opposition to NATO's newly published strategic concept document, saying it is full of Cold War mentality and ideological bias and sticks to the wrong positioning of a systemic challenge to China.
Below is a translation of 郑永年 Professor Zheng Yongnian's interview on NATO's strategic concept document for 侠客岛 Xiakedao, a social media account run by the overseas edition of the People's Daily. The interview was posted on WeChat on June 29. The translation was contributed by Ginger River's colleague, Weili Hou, who is based in Beijing and covers China's political and cultural news. See a previous post on China's Anti-Monopoly Law by Weili.
Prof. Zheng is currently the Presidential Chair Professor and the Founding Director of the Advanced Institute of Global and Contemporary China Studies (GCCS), the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen (CUHK-SZ).
He previously served as the former Director of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore (2008-2019), and the former Research Director and Professor of the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham (2005-2008).
Prof. Zheng has long been an influential voice in the Chinese mainland. For example, he was invited to speak at a meeting with the top leadership in 2020 on China’s 14th Five Year Plan (2021-2025), as reported by the prime-time news program on China Central Television (CCTV) then.
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Q: Why do you think NATO decided to label China as a "systemic challenge"?
Zheng: First of all, this is, without doubt, a U.S.-led move. Washington regards China as the only strategic adversary worldwide that is able and has the intention to pose a challenge to the United States. In its own narrative, a challenge to the United States is a challenge to a "rule-based world order." But the question is, "can the United States truly represent the world order?"
For China, all countries in the world, big or small, contribute to the world order, whereas from the U.S. point of view, the U.S. order is the world order. It is the United States that is sabotaging and even abandoning the current international system underpinned by the United Nations, which the U.S. itself helped build and played a leading role. This is the hegemonic way of reasoning the United States has been adopting. The country is in constant need to make enemies in order to maintain its hegemony.
To some extent, this reflects the United States’ deflating confidence. When it was confident about itself, the United States advocated "the end of history" concept, asserting that its own systems are the last and best ones in the history of humanity. But now its democracy and systems are showing signs of failing, and it promptly blames China, Russia or some other country for it. I once said that the United States is acting increasingly more like the former Soviet Union, as it becomes more and more exclusive, and increasingly targets other countries. There is something badly wrong with this way of thinking.
Q: Why are the United States and NATO so obsessed with making enemies?
Zheng: For the United States, NATO is a tool for bloc-to-bloc confrontation and clique tricks. It uses NATO as a tool to build a world order to its own satisfaction. Even an ally inside the bloc would be squashed if they posed a challenge to U.S. hegemony -- Germany and Japan were catching up with the U.S. in economic terms, so the United States took on them to stop their rise. The same happened to France when its nuclear industry grew and challenged that of the United States. For Washington, a good instrumental international organization is one that is "handy," and an ally simply means a country willing do its bidding. Otherwise, they become the “enemies.”
During the Cold War, then Soviet Union was the enemy of the so-called "free world." Europe readily followed the lead of a powerful United States to confront Moscow. However, with the end of the Cold War, the United States ran out of enemies, so it has been seeking to make one, to maintain its hegemony. It wants to lead its allies by exploiting their fear of an "enemy" and bring its allies to heel. Particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States has been resorting to unilateral actions on more and more occasions, putting the United Nations system aside. The message is, “If you are not one of us, you are one of them.”
This comes with a heavy burden. As a result, we have seen that during the Trump administration, the United States withdrew from several international organizations or threatened to do so, or cut down on aid to its allies. This is reasonable. When Biden took office, the United States returned to its former strategy by repairing its alliances. The only way he could succeed in doing so is to create a scarecrow-like "common enemy," or a "common threat," so that other countries will follow its footsteps.
Q: NATO was created in 1949 to allegedly counter the communist bloc of countries led by the Soviet Union. But it survived the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and continued to expand till this day. How could this product of the Cold War last to the present day?
Zheng: In their narrative, NATO’s purpose is to "provide security in and for Europe." However, NATO was not disbanded after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and instead expanded. Russia at one point wanted to join NATO but was rejected. Why? Because NATO is a tool to maintain U.S. hegemony rather than safeguard peace. It disguises itself as an angel of peace, and chants slogans like "human rights above sovereignty." Yet in reality, how many conflicts has NATO provoked including its bombing of Yugoslavia?
Dichotomous thinking is one of the most fundamental mindsets for Western countries. In essence, it is a mentality and culture about forming cliques or taking sides. The two world wars saw the world divided into two camps each time, and so did the world during the Cold War. The same thing is happening again now, as NATO sees the world as an arena for "the West or the rest." They try to forge internal "solidarity" by creating make-believe enemies.
Can they succeed this time? Does the United States have enough money for this new strategy? Will other countries still do U.S.’s biddings? At the G7 summit last year, the United States clamored for a new strategy to counter the Belt and Road Initiative. This year, Group of Seven leaders even claimed that they would raise 600 billion U.S. dollars in funds for global infrastructure projects. I sincerely hope the United States means what it said. We welcome any economic initiative that brings real benefits to the Third World and developing countries.
But the problem is they don’t have enough resources to accomplish this. Where does the money come from? There are so many poor countries facing food shortages and food crises. The United States and its Group of 7 allies, nonetheless, planned to contribute only 4.5 billion U.S. dollars from this initiative, which is far less than enough to solve the problem. Where do the 600 billion U.S. dollars come from? Does the United States have that much money? Besides, China is not flexing its muscle by showing off its warships, nor is it seeking military expansion as accused by the United States. The NATO members know this crystal clear. Before the NATO Summit meeting, the Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic and Hungary expressed their different views on how to define China.
China has no geopolitical conflicts with Europe. Its growing power comes from trade and businesses, and trade is always mutually beneficial. To the majority of European countries, development still matters. No one but fools would devote themselves to this meaningless confrontation.
As we can all see, what has NATO done in the Ukraine crisis? What else apart from making Ukraine fight a proxy war and forcing it to serve as cannon fodder? Countries attending this NATO Summit all have close trade and economic ties with China that are impossible to cut off. If one is to forcibly sever these ties, how huge would the costs be?
The problem with NATO lies in its way of thinking and its mindset. Like I said earlier, "NATO is sick and sick in the mind." In an era underpinned by peace and development, how could one not go wrong by sticking to a Cold-War mentality?
For China, the key is not to fall into the trap set by the United States. You may well stick to your exclusive unilateralism, whereas we uphold our inclusive multilateralism. Washington talks about "cooperation, competition, and confrontation." The Chinese side may well be up for it. In areas that need cooperation, such as climate change, nuclear non-proliferation and public health, there can definitely be cooperation. In areas where there should have been competition, we advocate a fair game, but we are not afraid of competition. And for areas in which conflicts might arise, we should do our part manage those conflicts. You want to set up a $600-billion infrastructure plan? Just do it. We sincerely hope that they would invest real money into it, and help countries lagging behind develop their economies. Just as the United States itself had admitted, none of the construction teams operating in the world’s least developed regions is from the United States.
Never judge one by their words, but by their deeds. China has its own judgement and countries across Asia and Europe shall have their own too.
As 31 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions in China have completed their new round of local Communist Party of China (CPC) congresses by June 30, GRR has collected the full-text official reports delivered by the 31 party secretaries at their local CPC congresses, and the name lists of the elected deputies to the Party's 20th national congress from the local Party congresses in the time order. All the information has been aggregated in a PDF file via Google Drive and in a Excel file via Google Drive with links and notes, which can be shared, downloaded, and worked upon.