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NATO leaders say dealing with Biden is ‘less awkward’ than Trump

NATO will confront China’s military ambitions for the first time and designate Beijing as presenting ‘systemic challenges’ in a joint communique that is expected to be issued later today.

A draft of the message was seen by reporters during Monday’s summit between leaders of the alliance in Brussels, the first to take place since Joe Biden took over from Trump as president.

‘China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security,’ the communique will say, marking an historic pivot as the alliance – which was set up to counter Russia – adapts to Beijing’s rising presence on the world stage. 

Leaders will also expand NATO’s mutual defence pledge to include attacks on satellites and cyber attacks, saying that an assault on any one member of the 30-nation alliance will be seen as an attack on all of them.

Earlier in the day, Biden had firmly committed the US to the defence pact, drawing a line in the sand from Trump’s policies after he prevaricated when asked the same question ahead of his first summit.

Meanwhile NATO leaders expressed relief that they are dealing with BIden and not his predecessor, with Dutch PM Mark Rutte saying relations are now ‘more normal’ than they were.

Italian PM Mario Draghi said the alliance is ‘rebuilding’ after years of ‘undecided’ policy from Trump, while Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo added that it was time to ‘turn the page’ after ‘turbulent times’.   

Joe Biden met with Tayyip Erdogan for talks on the sidelines of NATO’s summit in Brussels today, with the two men greeting each-other with what at first appeared to be a kiss on the hand – though this was only a trick of perspective

Biden kicked off the summit by committing the US to NATO's mutual defence pact, saying he views it as a 'sacred obligation' in a break from Trump - who notoriously refused to commit to the pledge

Biden kicked off the summit by committing the US to NATO’s mutual defence pact, saying he views it as a ‘sacred obligation’ in a break from Trump – who notoriously refused to commit to the pledge

Biden is attempting to rally his allies ahead of his first meeting with Vladimir Putin in Geneva later this week, as relations between the two countries plunge into the deep-freeze

Biden is attempting to rally his allies ahead of his first meeting with Vladimir Putin in Geneva later this week, as relations between the two countries plunge into the deep-freeze

Erdogan was rising out of his chair when Biden offered him a fist-bump which he reciprocated, though for a moment and at the right angle it appeared the Turkish president was kissing Biden's hand

Erdogan was rising out of his chair when Biden offered him a fist-bump which he reciprocated, though for a moment and at the right angle it appeared the Turkish president was kissing Biden’s hand

‘Article Five is a sacred obligation,’ Biden said, referring to the transatlantic alliance’s collective defence pledge. ‘I want all Europe to know that the United States is there.’

‘NATO is critically important to us,’ said Biden, who is seeking to mend ties after Trump’s denigration of the alliance and what the ex-president called its ‘delinquent’ members over the past four years.

Biden said both Russia and China were not acting ‘in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped’, referring to Western efforts since the mid-1990s to bring both countries into the fold of liberal democracies.

In a sign of a common position emerging on China, no longer seen as a benign trading partner, the European Union has already designated Beijing a ‘systemic rival’.

Dutch PM Mark Rutte was keen to draw a line under the Trump era, saying relations are 'more natural' with Biden

Dutch PM Mark Rutte was keen to draw a line under the Trump era, saying relations are ‘more natural’ with Biden

Although Moscow denies any wrongdoing, allied leaders are concerned about Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine, as well as its covert and cyber attacks to undermine Western states.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said China’s growing military presence from the Baltics to Africa meant nuclear-armed NATO had to be prepared. ‘China is coming closer to us. We see them in cyberspace, we see China in Africa, but we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure,’ he said, a reference to ports and telecoms networks.

‘We need to respond together as an alliance.’

G7 nations meeting in Britain over the weekend scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.

China’s embassy in London said it was resolutely opposed to mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which it said distorted the facts and exposed the ‘sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States’.

‘China’s reputation must not be slandered,’ the embassy said on Monday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, arriving at the summit, said there were both risks and rewards with Beijing.

‘I don’t think anybody around the table wants to descend into a new Cold War with China,’ he said. 

Since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, NATO has modernised its defences but has only recently begun to look more seriously at any potential threat from Chinese ambitions.

From China’s investments in European ports and plans to set up military bases in Africa to joint military exercises with Russia, NATO is now agreed that Beijing’s rise deserves a strong response, although envoys said that would be multi-faceted.

Allies are mindful of their economic links with China. Total German trade with China in 2020 was over 212 billion euros ($256.82 billion), according to German government data, making Beijing the top trade partner in goods.

Total Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasuries as of March 2021 stood at $1.1 trillion, according to U.S. data, and total U.S. trade with China in 2020 was $559 billion. 

Also on the agenda for Biden on Monday was a sideline meeting with Turkish President Erdogan, in an attempt to patch ties that have become strained lately. 

During his campaign, Biden drew ire from Turkish officials after he described Erdogan as an ‘autocrat.’ 

In April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was ‘genocide’ – a term that U.S. presidents have previously avoided using.

The two leaders were expected to discuss Syria and Iran as well as what role Turkey can play on Afghanistan following U.S. withdrawal, according to the White House. 

Also on the agenda: how Washington and Ankara ‘deal with some of our significant differences on values and human rights and other issues,’ White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

The unsettled security situation in Libya, as well as overlapping concerns on China and Russia are also expected to be discussed. 

Biden is attempting to rally his allies as he takes a tough line on both China and Russia in the early days of his presidency. In two days, he will fly to Geneva for his first meeting with Vladimir Putin since becoming president. 

Emmanuel Macron speaks with Biden as leaders prepare to take part in his first NATO meeting since becoming president

Emmanuel Macron speaks with Biden as leaders prepare to take part in his first NATO meeting since becoming president

Boris Johnson (left), Emmanuel Macron (centre) and Joe Biden (right) are seen ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels today

Boris Johnson (left), Emmanuel Macron (centre) and Joe Biden (right) are seen ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels today

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg (centre) pledged a 'new chapter' for the alliance under Biden, which he said comes at a 'pivotal' moment in its history (pictured left, Polish president Andrzej Duda)

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg (centre) pledged a ‘new chapter’ for the alliance under Biden, which he said comes at a ‘pivotal’ moment in its history (pictured left, Polish president Andrzej Duda)

Joe Biden speaks with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a plenary session at a NATO summit in Brussels

Joe Biden speaks with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a plenary session at a NATO summit in Brussels

The president started his day meeting with leaders of the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank regarding the ‘threat posed by Russia,’ China and the recent air piracy in Belarus, according to Sullivan.   

The White House says Biden met Monday with Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia, President Egils Levits of Latvia, and President Gitanas Nauseda of Lithuania and ‘underscored strong U.S. support’ for their security.

The White House added: ‘The leaders committed to further strengthening our political, military, and economic partnerships, including working together through NATO to address challenges posed by Russia and China.’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russian disinformation is one issue that will be discussed at Monday’s NATO summit, as she spoke before the meeting.

Merkel said that ‘hybrid challenges’ are a growing issue – ‘cyberattacks, and particularly with a view to Russia, of course, disinformation campaigns.’ She added that ‘many allies in NATO, including Germany, are affected.’

Merkel said the summit also will discuss the situation in Ukraine, ‘where we see great challenges, of course,’ and the situation in Belarus.

Meanwhile French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that he wants to ‘move forward’ with Turkey toward a demanding and respectful relationship, after meeting with the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Both men talked Monday on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels. It was their first meeting since the dispute between the two countries reached its peak in October after Erdogan questioned Macron’s mental health.

Macron said he wants all NATO allies to make a clear commitment to the military organization’s values, principles and rules, according to the French presidency.

Both men discussed Libya and Syria issues, the Elysee said. Macron has notably accused Turkey of flouting its commitments by ramping up its military presence in Libya and bringing in jihadi fighters from Syria.

Macron also highlighted that France’s secularism respects all religions, including Islam. The French presidency said a ‘clarification’ was needed in response to Erdogan’s tough criticism of Macron’s attitude toward Islam and Muslims, as the French government proposed a law to fight Islamist radicals.  

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson added that NATO leaders do not see China as an adversary in the same way that they view Russia, but that they must come to terms with the Asian giant’s growing influence.

Johnson told reporters at a NATO summit in Brussels Monday that China is ‘a gigantic fact in our lives and a new strategic consideration for NATO.’

He says ‘I don’t think anybody around the table today wants to descend into a new Cold War with China.’

He says the leaders of the 30-nation alliance ‘see challenges, they see things that we have to manage together, but they also see opportunities, and I think that what we need to do is to do it together. 

NATO leaders gather for the summit in Brussels today, taking place just 48 hours before Biden meets with Putin

NATO leaders gather for the summit in Brussels today, taking place just 48 hours before Biden meets with Putin

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the NATO summit in Brussels

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the NATO summit in Brussels

The NATO summit also comes on the tail of the G7 meeting that took place just a few days prior in the UK. 

At the G-7, leaders sought to convey that the club of wealthy democracies – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – is a better friend to poorer nations than authoritarian rivals such as China and Russia.

The G-7 meeting ended with a communique that called out forced labor practices and other human rights violations impacting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province. 

The president declined to discuss private summit negotiations over the provision, but said he was ‘satisfied’ with the communique, although differences remain among the allies about how forcefully to call out Beijing.

Biden is focused on building a more cohesive bond between America and allies who had become wary of U.S. leadership after enduring four years of Trump’s name-calling and frequent invectives about the relevance of NATO.

Trump complained that the NATO alliance allows ‘global freeloading’ countries to spend less on military defense at the expense of the U.S. and dismissed the alliance as ‘obsolete.’

Biden offered a pointed rejoinder on Sunday, saying: ‘We do not view NATO as a sort of a protection racket. We believe that NATO is vital to our ability to maintain American security for … the remainder of the century. And there’s a real enthusiasm.’

When alliance members last met for a summit in England in December 2019, Trump grabbed headlines by calling Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ‘two-faced’ and French President Emmanuel Macron ‘nasty.’

Trump lashed out after Trudeau was caught on a hot mic gossiping with other leaders about Trump turning photo opportunities into long news conferences. 

Ahead of the summit, Macron had declared NATO ‘brain dead’ because of a void in U.S. leadership under Trump.

Biden has already acknowledged during his Europe tour that the alliance needs to ensure better burden sharing and needs more American leadership. 

He’s also highlighted NATO members’ contributions in the war in Afghanistan, noting that ‘NATO stepped up’ after America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

The U.S. and NATO are winding down their involvement in the nearly 20-year war that killed tens of thousands of Afghans and more than 3,500 U.S. and allied troops.

The war also raised profound questions about whether NATO’s most ambitious effort was worth it.

For now, NATO plans to leave civilian advisers to help build up government institutions. It’s unclear who will protect them. 

The alliance is also weighing whether to train Afghan special forces outside the country.

NATO members are also expected to endorse the creation of a new cyber defense policy to improve coordination with countries impacted by the increasing frequency of ransomware attacks.

That will come alongside a climate security action plan to reduce greenhouse gases from military activities in line with national commitments under the Paris agreement and a commitment to strengthen NATO’s deterrence to meet threats from Russia and elsewhere, according to the White House.  

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