In a clear reference to groupings like the Quad, a top Chinese foreign ministry official has drawn parallels between “the NATO strategy of eastward expansion in Europe” and the creation of “small blocs” and “group confrontation” in the Indo-Pacific, the region that China calls Asia-Pacific.
“The Ukraine crisis provides a mirror for us to observe the situation in the Asia-Pacific. We cannot but ask, how can we prevent a crisis like this from happening in the Asia-Pacific?” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said on Saturday.
“The Asia-Pacific now 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?” Le said in remarks in English posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website.
“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,” he said.
“If allowed to go on unchecked, it would bring unimaginable consequences, and ultimately push the Asia-Pacific over the edge of an abyss.”
Le, who was speaking at the Fourth International Forum on Security and Strategy hosted by the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University in Beijing, is a former Chinese ambassador to India, who served in New Delhi during the first two years of the Narendra Modi government — 2014 to 2016.
He is a member of the Chinese Community Party’s Committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, and is widely seen as one of the promising stars of Beijing’s foreign policy establishment.
Clearly taking aim at the US, the Chinese Vice Minister said: “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.”
“Every country has the right to pursue a development path chosen by itself. Imposition or interference in others’ internal affairs should be rejected, and there is no need for “saviors” or “lecturers”,” he said.
Le referred to Friday’s conversation between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Last night, President Xi Jinping had a video call with US President Joe Biden upon request, pointing out that China always stands for peace and opposes war,” he said.
Former Foreign Secretary and India’s ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale described Le’s speech as “very important”, and said Sunday’s PLA Daily, the People’s Liberation Army’s official newspaper in Mandarin, “mirrors” the views expressed by the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister.
The newspaper has said that the US is creating “gangs” in the Indo Pacific to build a NATO-like structure, and has described Quad as being part of it.
Both India and China have abstained from voting in resolutions at the United Nations condemning Russia. But this is probably the first time that China has framed the Ukraine crisis in terms of NATO’s eastward expansion, and juxtaposed it to US strategy in the Indo-Pacific, including the Quad, of which India is a part.
These statements by a senior Chinese official add weight to the strategic thought in New Delhi, Washington, and in capitals in Europe and the Indo-Pacific that Beijing is testing the waters on its own regional conflict with the West.