After a three year pause NATO and China have reconvened military to military staff talks. The 5th iteration of the staff talks were held on 5th of June, in the New NATO HQ in Brussels.
NATO and China’s military dialogue has been constant since 2010, with yearly meetings. This dialogue was interrupted in 2016, due to several circumstances, amongst them the reforms in the Chinese armed forces and the terror attacks in Brussels in March, which led to the cancellation of the planned talks that month. After a three hiatus, staff to staff talks resumed this month with a series of meetings between NATO and Chinese military officials.
Although NATO does not seek a role in Asia, the security situation in the Asia Pacific region cannot be separated from that of the Euro-Atlantic and NATO has an interest in understanding how these linkages work. China is an essential part of this 360° engagement as are our other established partners in the region. China is not part of NATO’s official network of partners but both parties value the dialogue set up.
NATO’s military interaction with China in the form of staff talks, follows a clear political guidance that has developed over the last 10-15 years. As recent as last weekend (2 June) NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller and Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Lieutenant General Steven Shepro met with a Chinese delegation in the margins of the Shangri-La Dialog in Singapore. Additionally, both NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg and Deputy Secretary General Gottemoeller have met, on separate occasions, with the Chinese Ambassador to EU, earlier this spring.
Dialogue is one of NATO’s most effective tools and cannot be neglected. There was a clear and strong agreement between the staff talks’ participants that the best way forward was to strengthen the military dialogue between NATO and China. The tone of the talks was open and candid, both parties seeking to establish a concrete way forward and focusing on practical cooperation within the established political framework. Topics in the discussions included: North Korea, the South China Sea, Maritime Security and Counter Piracy, the security perspective on Central Asia – in particular in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the European security landscape, China’s defense and military reforms, NATOs partnership policy and finally, possible areas for more practical cooperation between NATO and China.
During a breakaway meeting, Lieutenant General Broeks, Director General of the NATO International Military Staff, met with Major General Ci Guowei, Deputy Chief of the Office for International Military Cooperation. Lieutenant General Broeks highlighted the importance of such meetings, “it is clear that in today’s interconnected world, dialogue is one of the founding blocks of cooperation. Global challenges demand global solutions and global cooperation”.
One of the concrete outcomes from the staff talks is an “action list” of possible areas for practical cooperation to be developed jointly between NATO’s and Chinese Military Staffs, and which will set the pace for further engagements. Areas under consideration could include participation in conferences, like the Xingshan Conference in Beijing, participation in courses at NATO Defense College and the NATO School in Oberammergau, NATO participation in courses at China’s Defense University, better and quicker information exchange related to possible interaction between navy forces (the Navy call them Passing Exercises, PASSEX), etc.
As with all good dialogues, the military staff talk acted as a vehicle for both parties to talk and explain their security challenges and views, which in turn increases transparency and helps minimize uncertainty. This 5th edition of the talks was a resounding success, allowing NATO to restart its a dialogue with a key global player and setting up a methodology for further, deeper and more meaningful engagement, in line with individual political guidance.
The talks concluded with an agreement to hold follow-on meetings to keep the “action plan” active and alive. The 6th edition of the staff talks should be held in Beijing next year (2019).