The U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy and the creation of groups such as the Quad were “as dangerous” as NATO’s eastward expansion in Europe, a top Chinese official has said.
The Ukraine crisis, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told a forum in Beijing on Saturday, “provides a mirror for us to observe the situation in the Asia-Pacific” and the region “faces two opposite choices: should we build an open and inclusive family for win-win cooperation or go for small blocs based on the Cold War mentality and group confrontation?”
Chinese officials have blamed NATO’s expansion for triggering the crisis in Ukraine. China, like India, has abstained from UN resolutions targeting Russia. Beijing has, however, gone further by blaming the U.S. and NATO for the crisis and calling for Russia’s “legitimate security concerns” to be addressed.
If there have been some broad similarities in the responses of China and India to Ukraine — from abstaining at the UN to calling for diplomacy and focusing on the evacuations of their nationals — one striking difference has been in China drawing a link between NATO’s actions in Europe and those of the U.S. and its partners and allies in Asia.
Mr. Le is a former Ambassador to India and is tipped by some observers in Beijing to become China’s next Foreign Minister or a key figure in the foreign policy establishment following the once-in-five-year Party Congress set for November this year. The current Foreign Minister Wang Yi is expected to complete his term in March next year when the Parliament or National People’s Congress (NPC) will appoint a new Premier and Cabinet Ministers.
In his speech, Mr. Le compared NATO’s actions in Europe — which many observers in Beijing have argued justified Russia’s invasion, although China’s government has not explicitly said so — to those of the U.S. in Asia and warned that a crisis could follow in the region.
“No country should pursue its so-called absolute security at the expense of other countries’ security. Otherwise, as the proverb goes, ‘One who tries to blow out other’s oil lamp will get his beard on fire.’ We must respect each other and not wantonly interfere in others’ internal affairs..... Imposition or interference in others’ internal affairs should be rejected, and there is no need for ‘saviours’ or ‘lecturers,’” he said.
“Going against the trend to pursue the Indo-Pacific strategy, provoke trouble, put together closed and exclusive small circles or groups, and get the region off course toward fragmentation and bloc-based division is as dangerous as the NATO strategy of eastward expansion in Europe,” Mr. Le continued. “If allowed to go on unchecked, it would bring unimaginable consequences, and ultimately push the Asia-Pacific over the edge of an abyss.”
China’s Foreign Minister made a similar point earlier this month and explicitly mentioned the U.S., Australia, India, Japan Quad as a key element of that strategy. He equated the Quad with the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance involving the Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S. and U.K. and the AUKUS (Australia-U.K.-U.S.) defence pact.
“The U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy.... talks multilateralism but in reality creates exclusive clubs,” Mr. Wang said during the NPC. “It claims international rules but in reality is setting and imposing rules suiting itself and its acolytes.....From strengthening the Five Eyes and peddling the Quad to putting together the AUKUS security partnership and tightening bilateral military alliances, the U.S. is staging a ‘5432’ posture in the Asia Pacific. The real goal for the Indo-Pacific strategy is to establish an Indo-Pacific version of NATO.”
The Quad’s members have rejected such characterisations of the grouping, pointing out its broad-based cooperation, including on vaccines and supply chains.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar last month said “there are interested parties who advance that kind of analogies”. “I would urge you not to slip into that lazy analogy of an Asian-NATO,” he said, pointing out India was not a treaty ally of the U.S. “We are not a treaty ally. It doesn’t have a treaty, a structure, a secretariat, it’s a kind of 21st century way of responding to a more diversified, dispersed world.”