NATO condemns China as a 'decisive enabler' of Russia's war in Ukraine in sternest rebuke to date

The NATO logo seen during the coalition’s summit in Washington D.C. on July 10.

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In NATO’s most serious denunciation of China to date, the military coalition labeled Beijing a “decisive enabler” of Russia in its ongoing war in Ukraine and expressed concerns over its nuclear arsenal and “systemic challenges” to the coalition’s security.

“The PRC has become a decisive enabler of Russia’s war against Ukraine through its so-called ‘no limits’ partnership and its large-scale support for Russia’s defence industrial base,” a NATO communique said Wednesday, on the second day of a Washington summit celebrating the alliance’s 75th anniversary.  

The coalition further called on Beijing to “cease all material and political support to Russia’s war effort,” specifically naming the transfer of “dual-use materials, such as weapons components, equipment, and raw materials that serve as inputs for Russia’s defence sector” — in NATO’s first explicit accusation that the administration of Xi Jinping is providing military aid to Moscow.

Beijing has previously repeatedly denied supplying weapons to Russia in the war in Ukraine, but the two nations have maintained close trade relations throughout the conflict, even as Moscow finds itself increasingly divorced from or outright sanctioned by the West. Earlier this week, Beijing started joint military exercises with Russia’s close ally Belarus at a training ground mere miles away from the Polish border, the Belarusian Defense Ministry said in a Google-translated Telegram post.

On the February 2023 first-year anniversary of the Ukraine war, China — which a month later successfully capitalized on goodwill earned as a trade partner to broker a reconciliation between arch-enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia — pitched a peace framework for the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv. It, like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s peace plan and Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s own recent conditions to ignite diplomatic negotiations, has so far failed to gain traction.

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After years of a velvet-gloved diplomacy and viewing China as a distant concern, NATO on Wednesday said Beijing “continues to pose systemic challenges to Euro-Atlantic security,” underscoring the alleged disinformation stemming from the world’s second-largest economy and its activities in space and cyberspace.

“The PRC continues to rapidly expand and diversify its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and a larger number of sophisticated delivery systems. We urge the PRC to engage in strategic risk reduction discussions and promote stability through transparency,” the NATO communique said, warning that allies are simultaneously raising their “shared awareness” and enhancing preparations to protect against China’s “coercive tactics and efforts to divide the Alliance.”

CNBC has reached out to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In a scathing riposte, China’s mission to the European Union said that the NATO statement “hypes up China-Russia relations undercutting and reshaping the rules-based international order” and is “filled with Cold War mentality and belligerent rhetoric.”

It added, “The China-related paragraphs are provocative with obvious lies and smears. We firmly reject and deplore these accusations and have lodged serious representations with NATO.”

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