BRUSSELS (Dispatches) – NATO’s most senior military officer has highlighted the “shocking” speed of China’s military modernization and warned of its growing diplomatic presence overseas.
The comments from air chief marshal Sir Stuart Peach highlight the broad array of security challenges posed by China.
“It is quite shocking how quickly China has built ships, how much China has modernized its air force, how much it has invested in cyber and other forms of information management, not least facial recognition,” said Peach — who stepped down on Friday after three years as head of NATO’s military committee — in an interview with the Financial Times before his departure.
“I think it’s very important to keep an eye on that. What do you do if you’re a leader in China with a modernized powerful large force? You deploy it, you move it around,” he said, adding that there is “further work required” among NATO’s 30 member states.
Beach also pointed to Beijing’s expanding diplomatic influence through various missions, such as its “enormous” embassy in Brussels, which is also the headquarters of the European Union and where NATO is based.
“You now have these large monuments of embassies with very large defensive divisions, populated mostly by general officers. And then you will simply notice, as I will after nearly 50 years of service, what is the purpose of all this?” the senior NATO officer asked.
Responding to Beach’s comments, China’s mission to the European Union said in a statement that military exchanges and cooperation with other countries are “an important part of China’s overall diplomacy,” and that Beijing is “actively developing constructive military relations with other countries.”
NATO leaders accused China at their summit in Brussels earlier in the month of going against the international order, claiming that Beijing was spreading disinformation and expanding its nuclear arsenal.
The U.S. and China have been at odds over a range of issues. Beijing hoped for an improvement in relations under U.S. President Joe Biden, who succeeded Donald Trump in January, but the new administration has shown no sign of backing down on hardline policies toward China.